December 14: “The Point” smeared the NAACP

The December 14 edition of Sinclair Broadcast Group's two-minute conservative commentary segment “The Point” took aim at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Sinclair vice president Mark Hyman, who hosts “The Point,” cited articles from three African American journalists in an attempt to support his suggestion that the primary challenge facing the organization is “relevancy” and that NAACP chairman Julian Bond “is more intent on bomb-throwing than in supporting the tenets of the group.”

Hyman first referred to a December 7 column by conservative author, syndicated TV and radio host, and syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams, who claimed without substantiation that retiring NAACP president Kweisi Mfume “did not resign” from the organization but “was kicked out” by Bond for “reaching out to the Bush administration.” Media Matters for America previously noted Williams's insistence that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) criticism of Justice Clarence Thomas during a December 5 appearance on NBC's Meet the Press makes Reid a “racist.”

Hyman then cited an article by Steven A. Holmes, a New York Times Washington bureau editor and media fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, in support of Hyman's claim that "[t]he biggest challenge for the group may be relevancy." But while Holmes's article in the July 26, 1998, edition of the New York Times criticized a speech Bond gave in 1998 as part of a broader commentary on advocacy groups, nowhere did it suggest that the NAACP was actually facing irrelevancy. In fact, speaking of the NAACP and similar groups at the end of the article, Holmes predicted the opposite, suggesting that “the influence of groups that can energize their core supporters may only grow.”

Finally, Hyman mischaracterized an article by Chicago Tribune syndicated columnist Clarence Page, claiming that “Page took the NAACP to task over its threatened lawsuit against the four biggest TV networks in 1999” and that he “chided the group” for threatening to sue over "[a]n absence of a leading role for a black in any of the 26 new TV shows for that fall." While Page did write that the organization's time “might better be spent pursuing other more urgent issues,” he was primarily criticizing the media for both ignoring what he regarded as the far more important work the NAACP was doing and for the media's “relentless chase after white viewers.” Contrary to Hyman's assertion, Page specifically said, “I don't blame Mr. Mfume or the NAACP for devoting time and energy to the issue of network TV programming.”

From Page's July 21, 1999, column:

As an African-American and longtime TV watcher, I was just as startled as Mr. Mfume to see that none of the 26 new shows set to debut on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox this fall will feature an African-American in a leading role. Nevertheless, I think the organization's time might better be spent pursuing other more urgent issues. After all, if television programming were the biggest problem facing black Americans today, we should not be threatening to sue anyone. We should be putting on party hats to celebrate.

Not that I blame Mr. Mfume for taking the opportunity for his organization to make news. I blame the media. After all, if the NAACP had announced something truly substantive and earthshaking instead, like, say, an all-out effort to close the nationwide test score gap between black and white high school students, how many reporters do you think would have shown up?

Here's a hint: The day after Mr. Mfume announced the TV protest at the NAACP's convention in New York City, the organization also announced a national project to bridge the “digital divide,” the gap between whites, blacks and Hispanics in access to the Internet. ... Guess which story got bigger play? For the rest of the week, the TV protest received Page One attention in major newspapers and television news channels. The computer project? What computer project?

The sad fact is that civil rights organizations tend to receive scant media attention when they are helping people to help themselves and a lot of media attention when they are making demands of someone else. ... I don't blame Mr. Mfume or the NAACP for devoting time and energy to the issue of network TV programming. It is the networks, in their relentless chase after white viewers, who have made themselves a more inviting target than usual this fall after three decades of remarkable, if uneven, progress.

Media Matters has launched a campaign to spur action against Sinclair Broadcast Group's use of the 62 television stations it owns or operates to systematically promote partisan political interests.