Other than coverage of the first trial of one of the defendants, Mychal Bell, by a print outlet, The Chicago Tribune (whose initial Jena story – thanks to Howard Witt, Tribune reporter, for his help – is available here), this is the first Main Stream Media (MSM) coverage of the Jena story by a major US news media outlet. The local newspaper of record, the Alexandria Town Talk, has been the main source of coverage of the story on a regular basis.
Why has it taken the American MSM so long to pick up the Jena story?
The BBC covered the story two months ago. Independent media (including this blog on three separate occasions) have been covering Jena for over a month. Other blogs have also covered the story repeatedly.
If one does a Google search for “Michael Vick dog fighting,” one gets 2,210,000 hits in .12 seconds. If one does a Google search for “Jena Six case,” one gets 647,000 hits in .2 seconds. That’s three times as many available hits in a little more than half the time. Now there is no doubt that the Vick case is an important story – both the despicable culture of dog fighting and its corrosive effects on young men in the African American community are having light shed on them that will, one hopes, help to eliminate the former and rehabilitate the latter. But is this issue three times as important as what the Jena Six are facing – as the Google statistics seem to suggest? What the BBC calls “stealth racism” would seem to be at least as important a corrosive element in African American culture as dog fighting. Indeed, one could well argue that behaviors such as those exhibited by the school superintendent and the district attorney in Jena surpass the problems created by glamorization of dog fighting in the black community because they erode (or rather disenfranchise) the gains in civil rights and liberties that the struggles of the 1950’s and 1960’s worked so hard and painfully to obtain.
I have written elsewhere about the seeming failure of important black leaders to address the Jena Six case. My thesis then suggested that those leaders chose to focus their attention on Michael Vick’s case because Vick, a high profile NFL star, offered the opportunity for those leaders to receive more publicity. But on reflection I believe it might be something more.
In a media saturated culture such as ours, getting attention paid to social messages ranges from difficult to impossible. Perhaps the strategy of Russell Simmons and Al Sharpton of piggy backing on the dog fighting issue that came to news consciousness with Michael Vick’s troubles has allowed them to address a serious issue in the African American community. They can get some traction because they take a stance that challenges some assumptions – particularly assumptions held by young black men. That makes sense.
But Simmons and Sharpton are important male role models in the African American community – and their attention to the Jena Six case could bring more MSM attention to the case – and create pressure on Jena leaders to address the unfairness of their treatment of these young men – and perhaps give pause to other community leaders when similar cases arise. That tactic worked well for Dr. King. It would work well in this case…..