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Protest Coverage in Mainstream News

Published in June 2015, this two and a half minute video shows systemic bias in the news when reporters describe the actions of Black people as compared to how they describe the actions of White people. The video features news clips reporting on social unrest from outlets such as ABC, FOX, and CNN and points out biases like when reporters use racially charged words like “thugs,” “wild looting,” “criminals,” and “the bad guys” when describing groups of Black people vs. “young people,” “passionate,” and “fans” to describe groups of White people.

The video also juxtaposes how protesting is differently portrayed in news media, showing how police showing up in full military grade riot gear and standing in a line facing racial justice protestors is framed in the news as “the police doing nothing.” On the other hand, footage of riots involving White people after a sporting event, where there is vandalism, violence, arson, and looting, show the police responding less aggressively and in standard uniforms, while the news media portrays these incidents as “a sporting event gone awry,” or “just young college students” who are “passionate” about their sports teams. This clip includes footage from protesting and social unrest in Ferguson, MO, Baltimore, MD, the Pumpkin riots in New Hampshire, and Waco, TX. At the end of the video, the audio describing Black protesters is applied to a video of Whites rioting after an athletic event, to show the stark difference in how much more severely one group is portrayed in comparison with the other.


Consider the importance of diction used by news reporters in terms of word choice and tone. How are these stories differently framed and what is the impact of these different portrayals? How, for example, may you interpret the Baltimore protests shown in the clip differently because of the way the police force is presented and the commentary from news anchors? Does it seem more severe than how the other events with mostly White people are portrayed? Why is it important to recognize and call out this bias?

How did you interpret the Pumpkin Riot featuring majority White people? When the audio was switched at the end, did the audio seem more appropriate? Why?

Think about how this clip discusses the ways protests and riots are represented and described, where when the perpetrators are White their behavior is not seen as radical but rather as just being young, stupid, or just being college kids who got out of hand. Why do you believe that Whites get more of a pass in media than people of color?

Do you believe that Black people are more likely to appear as lawbreakers in the news? What stereotypes does this play into? How do these portrayals affect how we see ourselves and how we interact with others?

Are there racial differences in terms of who is more often portrayed as victims of crimes in news media? How do these portrayals affect how we see ourselves and how we interact with others?

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