William McGowan wrote an excellent book on how diversity has corrupted American journalism called Coloring the News. In it, he cites the example of USA Today regularly running photos of minorities above the fold on the front page to show that the paper had moved “beyond the traditional white power structure.” But now a Philadelphia tabloid is in trouble for putting too many minorities on its front page.
The Philadelphia Daily News tried to help the police by publishing eighteen mug shots of local fugitives wanted for murder. The Daily News hoped that this would generate tips to the police from poor Philadelphia neighborhoods where residents are often fearful to get involved. The Daily News later reported that the publicity had worked and two suspects had been arrested the following week.
So why has the Daily News now had to profusely apologize for its community service feature? And why has a group of African-American community leaders formed the Coalition for Fair News Coverage, which is calling for the paper’s editors to resign? The Coalition announced plans to demonstrate outside the newspaper’s headquarters and is considering a boycott of the Daily News.
Did the Daily News misidentify some of the suspects or help wrongly arrest an innocent man? No, the Coalition and others are upset because the mug shots depicted only African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians. Why no Caucasians? Because the latest available police listing of suspected murder fugitives lists forty- one African-Americans, twelve Hispanics, and three Asians. The number two man on the police’s homicide fugitive squad said that all the white people wanted for murder are currently “locked up.”
Critics didn’t fault the “truthfulness” of the story, but the “imagery” on the front page of the Daily News. The eldest son of the city’s mayor said that the Daily News had “made life tougher for every young, African-American male in Philadelphia.” The community leaders hurled the race bomb at the Daily News. The managing editor of the Daily News, Ellen Foley, apologized if the “graphic treatment offended black Philadelphians.” But one apology wasn’t enough. About a week later, she issued another apology. She said that some African-Americans had charged the paper with racism and that the paper didn’t intend to imply that only black men commit murder. And the paper should have explained that there were currently no Caucasian suspects on the loose. And mistakes were made.
The biggest mistake was caving in to the so-called African-American community leaders. As one Daily News guest columnist later wrote, why didn’t the editors challenge these leaders to a dialogue about the black-on-black crime that these photos represented? It is the people in the communities that these leaders supposedly represent that suffer most from these thugs. A recent study shows that three murder victims out of four in Philadelphia are African-Americans and ninety percent of those deaths were caused by other African Americans. But the community leaders don’t want to talk about that. As the columnist said, “no wonder nothing ever changes.”