Brogan: Implicit Bias in Portrayal of Violent Crime

John Brogan, Staff Writer

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Considering the protests that have been occurring nationwide over the last months with a change of presidential administration, it’s necessary to be cognizant of implicit bias present when viewing news coverage from afar.

As we continue seeking to be informed on nationwide movements such as Black Lives Matter and the recent Women’s March on Washington, much of this knowledge comes from news and media outlets. It’s not a new phenomenon that administrations like to use their own version of facts, such as when Kellyanne Conway spoke on “Meet the Press” about the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s claim that Trump’s inauguration had the most attendees’ in the history of American inaugurations.

“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving — Sean Spicer, our press secretary — gave alternative facts,” she said.

“Alternative facts aren’t facts, they are falsehoods,” Chuck Todd, host of “Meet the Press,” responded.

Crowd size is an innocuous discussion topic and perhaps a diversion from more pressing issues, but it nonetheless highlights an inclination to frame situations through a specific lens, even to the point of denying objectivity. This reality affects the way media outlets portray all their stories, whether activism or violent crime.

A study by Color of Change found that in New York City 75% of the news reports about violent crime arrests highlighted black alleged perpetrators, while 51% of people arrested were black. The additional coverage dedicated to suspects who are Black feeds a false narrative of implicit danger associated by race against a White norm.

In addition to skewed media coverage, in New York City the stop-and-frisk legality has disproportionately affected other races as antagonist to White populations:

In 2011, New Yorkers were stopped by the police 685,724 times: 88 percent were innocent. Of those stopped, 53 percent were black, 34 percent were latino and 9 percent were white. (Age-wise, 51 percent were aged 14-24.)

Language used is another example of implicit and often under-the-radar effects on cognition, such as photos used in stories, or portraying protesters as looting. Subtle or undetected language disparity in news coverage is dangerous in how we view situations in day-to-day interactions and can disrupt community ties without any dialogue occurring.

To not acknowledge the blatant reality of subtle as well as explicit racism in American cities, reflected here through the lens of media reporting, is to feed the oppressor rather than enact change.  As students we have the unique position of being able to dedicate more of our energy to learning and absorbing the realities of society within an education bubble. Subtle forms of oppression exist in the bubble as a community of young adults, which gives us an opportunity to discuss and play with our potentially false preconceived notions of how people behave and why they behave in certain ways.

As protests continue to happen, whether as continuing protests from what has been described as the “Ferguson effect” or the women’s marches occurring, being cognizant of implicit bias in the media helps to understand our own biases and form more clear and objective opinions of what’s happening in our communities. Acknowledging historical oppression is an important and necessary step in not repeating or feeding into an oppressive narrative of human behavior. The flow of valid information, whether from community members, news reporters or public officials, is a baseline necessity.

The denial of implicit and subtle stereotyping and profiling is the same cop-out of climate change deniers: “I need more evidence.”