Posted on March 17‚ 2014
When it comes to racial diversity among the Sunday political talk shows, MSNBC is the undisputed leader. In two studies conducted by ChangeLab (January-June 2012, and January-June 2013), MSNBC’s anchor weekend talk programs, Up with Chris Hayes/Steve Kornacki and Melissa Harris Perry included more guests of color and hosted more discussion of issues of race than all of the other networks offering similar programming combined. The difference is not just in quantity but in the depth and quality of the discourse. Now, mind you, the standard established by the major networks is set pretty low, but they do at least exceed it.
MSNBC’s entries in the weekend political talk show line up were included for the sake of comparison. The inclusion of those two shows predictably skewed the number of mentions of Asians dramatically upward. MSNBC is, after all, basically a communications organ for Democratic interests, and Democrat is, by far and away, the party of choice of Asian American voters. So, we assumed that MSNBC would be outliers when it comes to discussing issues of race.
But we were wrong, at least when it comes to Asian Americans.
In the 2012 study, the Big Five programs mentioned Asian Americans 10 times in 129 episodes aired over 26 weeks. Not a very good record. But, what’s worse, the mentions were just incidental. Asians were referenced in order to make a point about something or someone other than Asians.
From January 1- June 30, 2013, those same Big Five programs mentioned Asian Americans 13 times. 11 of those times Asians were just referenced as part of lists, with no meaningful additional information. The other two mentions are described here. You can either follow that link or take my word for it that Asians did not benefit by those references nor did the general public learn anything useful about us because of them.
But then there are those MSNBC shows.
In the six-months studied in 2012, Asian Americans were mentioned 85 times on MSNBC – 79 times on the Melissa Harris Perry Show alone. Up with Chris Hayes made up the balance.
But here’s the rub. 70 of those Melissa Harris Perry mentions were concentrated on one show. And what was said on that show is pretty well summed up by this quote by guest William Schneider,
“There’s one distinctive thing about Asian Americans as a constituency, they have not relied on politics to get ahead, as many other disadvantaged groups have done. African Americans have faced terrible disadvantage in this country. Asian Americans certainly faced discrimination. They managed to get ahead in businesses, professions, science, popular culture. Look at Margaret Cho, a woman of great accomplishment and great courage who has gotten ahead through her talent and her determination. But like many Asian Americans, they have done it themselves, they haven’t had to rely on politics as much as other groups.”
In other words, Mr. Schneider characterized Asian Americans by repeating a false and damaging stereotype. That stereotype originates from highly biased, politically motivated, decades out of date propaganda campaigns mounted by Asian civil rights groups in order to deflect anti-Asian racism in the immediate post-WWII era, a period when Asian Americans were subject to widespread hatred, exclusion, violence, and political persecution, including deportation and mass imprisonment. The pro-Asian propaganda drew the public’s attention to Asian American patriotism in the war and Asian American’s contributions to American society while purposely deflecting attention away from equally relevant aspects of life in Asian American communities, including political alienation and protest, political and economic exclusion, criminality, and delinquency.