THE BLOG

How Mainstream Media Fiddled While Baltimore Burned and Got It Wrong When They Showed Up

04/30/2015 12:43 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2015

On Saturday, the elite of America's mainstream media establishment gathered for the annual White House Correspondents Dinner. It was a gala affair. Top news professionals mingled with politicians, celebrities and executives in immaculate suits and dresses. They traded congratulatory backslaps, smiles and red carpet photo ops before going in to dinner to be charmed by the President.

While the dinner was going on, about 40 miles away the city of Baltimore was tearing itself apart. Young Black people had taken to the streets to protest the death of Freddie Gray, who apparently had his vertebrae shattered and crushed while being driven around in a Baltimore police van. The protests soon became urban combat between citizens and police similar to the scenes in Ferguson last year and Los Angeles 23 years prior.

When the media finally woke up from their hangovers Monday morning, they were quick to start writing about the Baltimore unrest and the narrative and images quickly took the usual form: marauding Black kids breaking windows, throwing rocks, shouting at police. It was almost as if the media decided this violence happened out of the blue when in reality the violence started with the possibility of Baltimore police breaking Freddie Gray's spine. They reported on the effects but not the cause and they wouldn't have reported on it at all if not for social media.

According to Pedro da Costa of the Wall Street Journal, a reporter for CNN said that there was no need for the network to cover Freddie Gray because "people could find out about it on Twitter." That was true; pretty much everything I learned about what was happening in Baltimore I learned from the Twitter and the Livestream feeds of protesters on the ground as it happened.

So what is the purpose of mainstream media if they are not going to fulfill their mission of informing the public? Money. The collective American media is a multibillion dollar monolith. Six corporations own over 90 percent of American print and broadcast media. It's an industry that feeds on firing information at the viewer at a machine-gun pace and when that happens, a lot of context gets lost. Many of the people who work in media have no clue how to tell a story at street level and when it's a story about Black issues, they get even more clueless.

There's a sense of disregard for getting the story from the point of view of the people affected. Or they have their minds made up before they get there or report on it. In the case of Baltimore, there have been several incidents of citizens calling out media people for their tone-deafness and taking control of their own stories. It's sadly necessary and it's not surprising. Watching footage of the Correspondents Dinner and clips of the Baltimore Uprising reminded me of the French aristocracy at Versailles, waltzing, covered in jewels, drinking champagne and completely out of touch while in the streets of Paris, the starving peasants were planning their obsolescence.

If you want to get real information about what's going on with people outside of the champagne and limousine loop in America, bloggers and citizen journalists are where you have to go.