NPR television critic educates on media’s perpetuation of stereotypes

Eric Deggans visited W&L to shate his views on news outlets’ influence in shaping race narratives

Emma Derr

Journalist and media analyst Eric Deggans gave a talk on Feb. 6 about how race is portrayed in, and perceived from, news media.

“Racism and sexism limit white people and men too,” Deggans said, commending the important benefits of diversity in businesses and newsrooms to an audience of W&L faculty, students, and community members in Stackhouse Theater.

Deggans is the highly-acclaimed author of Race Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation, and was included among the likes of Oprah Winfrey on the “Power 150” list of influential African Americans in 2009. He worked with the Tampa Bay Times for more than twenty years and currently serves as the first full-time TV critic for National Public Radio.

Deggans discussed how liberal news outlets, such as MSNBC, have completely different media structures than conservative channels, such as Fox News.

Due to confirmation bias, Deggans said that people normally stick to the news that best reflects and affirms their own beliefs.

“Our problem is trust,” Deggans said. “And people just don’t trust the media.”

Kylee Sapp, ‘18, attended the event.

“I think he’s right that race and the media’s coverage of it are important issues to discuss, even if those discussions are uncomfortable,” she said.

Deggans said that almost all news outlets, some more than others, are prone to perpetrating the stereotypes of defined racial groups.

For example, black male criminals are more often identified by reporters as black, whereas white criminals have a higher likelihood of being referred to simply as criminals.

“I’m trying to educate the public about how the media can be manipulated and distorted,” Deggans said.

To accomplish this goal, he said we must understand the invisibility of white culture and race as a social construct.

“White people often judge racial progress by looking at the past, and black people judge by comparing to the future,” he said.

He said the biggest accomplishment of the civil rights movement was that the term racism was demonized.

“Even white supremacists don’t want to be called racist,” he said. “It is now socially unacceptable.”

He believes the perspectives are undeniably different and shape how the different racial groups perceive the importance of racial progress.

“I thought Eric Deggans offered a focused and holistic understanding of how race caused divisions in our country,” said Aly Colón, the Knight Chair in Media Ethics at Washington and Lee University.

“He showed us how history, prejudice and the media propagated stereotypes that undermines our ability to understand who we are and why we are what we are. But he believes civility, knowledge and a willingness to change can help bring us together.”