In contrast to significant coverage on CNN and MSNBC, a search of Fox News transcripts indicates the network has yet to address the recent desecration of a statue at The University of Mississippi which commemorates the integration of “Ole Miss,” despite the network's previous attacks on desegregation law.
Earlier this month, a noose and a confederate flag were found on the Ole Miss campus, draped over a statue of James Meredith -- the first African-American student to enroll at the school. A group of white fraternity brothers are suspected in the vandalism, and the students could face federal hate crime charges. But a search of network transcripts on Nexis suggests that Fox has failed to report on the story at all -- despite having plenty to say in the past about "axing affirmative action" in favor of “color blindness.”
Right-wing media's response to recent challenges to affirmative action policies -- most recently from Michigan and Texas -- has been to unequivocally support the gutting of these equal opportunity admissions policies, which have strengthened diversity on campuses for the benefit of everyone. In discussing affirmative action, right-wing outlets have been prone to favorably refer to conservative Chief Justice John Roberts' overly-simplistic suggestion that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” when they weren't otherwise mangling the case law.
Lost in this conservative reporting is how a lack of diversity can lead to racial isolation for students of all colors and can contribute to racially-charged incidents of ignorance and hate on campus. Fox News, in particular, has had no qualms about misrepresenting the constitutionality of the diversity principle at the core of current affirmative action programs, which have been so crucial to ensuring that students and future leaders of color are not a rarity in the American educational experience. Their failure to report on the vandalism at Ole Miss unfortunately continues that trend.
Meanwhile, other networks have dedicated air time not just to the incident at Mississippi but to racial isolation on campuses across the country. According to Media Matters' analysis, CNN has mentioned the vandalism 20 times. In a February 26 segment on CNN Newsroom, host Carol Costello tied the incident to a drop in minority enrollment at the University of Michigan, after voters in the state banned the consideration of race as a factor in college admissions. One of Costello's guests, Columbia University professor and CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill rightly pointed out that “having a diverse campus isn't just to the benefit of black students ... it also helps the white students at Michigan. It makes everybody smarter. It makes everybody better.”
The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the Michigan ban on affirmative action last October. At the time, right-wing media complained that the Michigan amendment should be upheld because “the United States has seen institutionalized discrimination in favor of whites be replaced with institutionalized discrimination against whites (and Asians).” What those outlets failed to point out at the time, and what those outlets continue to ignore, is that the lack of diversity initiatives have negatively impacted minority enrollment, amplified racial tensions on campus, and reduced the quality of the educational experience not just for students of color, but for white students as well.
A recent report from The New York Times supports the idea that the decline in minority enrollment, in particular the decline in enrollment among black students at the University of Michigan, has led to racial tension and a lack of community for everyone. Moreover, the idea that the United States has entered an era of “colorblindness” or post-racial bliss is clearly false -- and issues that have arisen in Michigan and at Ole Miss illustrate that reality:
A brochure for the University of Michigan features a vision of multicultural harmony, with a group of students from different racial backgrounds sitting on a verdant lawn, smiling and conversing.
The scene at the undergraduate library one night last week was quite different, as hundreds of students and faculty members gathered for a 12-hour “speak out” to address racial tensions brought to the fore by a party that had been planned for November and then canceled amid protests. The fraternity hosting the party, whose members are mostly Asian and white, had invited “rappers, twerkers, gangsters” and others “back to da hood again.”
Beyond the immediate provocation of the party, a sharp decline in black undergraduate enrollment -- to 4.6 percent of the student body in 2013 from 6.2 percent in 2009 -- and a general feeling of isolation among black students on campus have prompted a new wave of student activism, including a social media campaign called “Being Black at the University of Michigan” (or, on Twitter, #BBUM). Members of the university's Black Student Union have petitioned campus administrators to, among other things, increase enrollment of black students to 10 percent.
Similar episodes and tensions have unsettled colleges including Arizona State; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Mississippi; and Dartmouth.
“I think there is no question that [the ban on affirmative action] has made it much more challenging for us,” Martha E. Pollack, the university provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said of the affirmative action vote. “It was difficult to be the kind of community that we wanted to be even when we could use affirmative action.”
Alex Ngo, 21, who is majoring in communications, rejected the notion of colorblindness. “When I hear people say, 'We're all people, we're all human, I don't see color,' to me that means, 'I don't see you, you don't exist,' ” he said. Mr. Ngo, who is Chinese and gay, said he had been subjected to racist and homophobic epithets.
This sort of discrimination is not just limited to Mississippi and Michigan. In Fisher v. University of Texas, supporters of affirmative action filed briefs with the Supreme Court detailing persistent racial tension on campus, an underappreciated and underreported fact of the very current and ongoing need for equal opportunity programs. In her amicus brief, Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier noted that there were specific instances of “overt racial hostility” on the Texas campus, including numerous instances of vandalism to a statute of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As Guinier explained to the Court in the Fisher case:
[E]ven today there are parts of the UT campus, including the West Mall, where black students rarely venture due to an overwhelming sense that they are “not welcome” and should keep out. Recurrent racially-tinged incidents reinforce the students' feelings of unease. Vandals defaced a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in January of 2003 and again in September of 2004. The campus, embroiled in racial turmoil, required an intervention by UT's President ... Racial and ethnic tensions persist nevertheless.
When right-wing media report on affirmative action, they don't bother to mention these real human consequences of their advocacy.
The Supreme Court will issue its decision in the Michigan affirmative action by June -- hopefully Fox will take that opportunity to improve its coverage of the lack of racial diversity on campus, if for no other reason than to provide accurate information to the public about the consequences of rolling back decades of civil rights law. When journalists don't care about explaining the reasons and mechanisms of affirmative action, it enables the universities to fail in their responsibilities as well.
Media Matters searched transcripts in Nexis for all-day programming on CNN and evening programming on Fox and MSNBC as well as raw video in Snapstream for all-day programming on all three networks for all mentions of “James Meredith,” “Ole Miss,” “University of Mississippi” and “noose” from February 16, 2014 to February 27, 2014. Media Matters was unable to find any mention of those terms in Fox News' on-air transcripts, although the network did run Associated Press stories about the incident on its website. Media Matters found two mentions of the incident in MSNBC's transcripts on February 22, 2014. Media Matters counted 20 mentions of the vandalism on CNN since February 16, 2014.