The coverage of Jordan Neely’s death on the New York City subway displays, yet again, the media’s tendency to overstate the relevance of race.
The mainstream media’s obsession with race has been clear to any casual consumer of news in the past decade. This biased news coverage is one of the main culprits driving the declining sentiment surrounding relations between white and black Americans that is seen in surveys.
READ MORE: Is the Media the Source of Woke Racism?
According to Gallup polling, in 2013, 72 percent of white adults and 66 percent of black adults said that relations between white and black people were somewhat or very good. These numbers had hovered around the same levels since the turn of the century. But by 2021, those numbers had declined drastically, with only 43 percent of white adults and only 33 percent of black adults reporting feeling positive about white–black relations. It is not hard to see how mainstream media outlets have played a part in causing the decline, and their coverage of the Jordan Neely incident over the past couple of weeks provides an illustrative example.
Neely, who had a long criminal record and a history of mental illness, was aggressively yelling on the New York City subway a couple of weeks ago before multiple fellow riders restrained him. One of those fellow riders, Daniel Penny, put Neely in a chokehold for several minutes and unintentionally killed him. While Neely had made plenty of mistakes in his past and was having a dangerous outburst that day, he certainly did not need to die, and the whole situation is incredibly sad. That is the story.
But to protesters in New York City and members of the mainstream media, that is not the whole story. To them, this incident is somehow about race, as Neely was black and Penny is white. Their races had absolutely nothing to do with the incident, but almost every news article makes sure to point out the race of the two men. Why?
Penny was recently charged with second-degree manslaughter, but, prior to Penny’s arrest, NPR posted a page on its site that contains a transcript from its program All Things Considered with a headline that read “There Have Been No Arrests After an NYC Subway Commuter Killed a Black Man on a Train.” And, as seen in the transcript, the host of the show also pointed out the races of Neely and Penny immediately when introducing the segment on the incident.
With unjustifiable, race-focused coverage like this, it’s no wonder sentiments about race relations are the worst they have been since the turn of the century.
Racism is still present in the hearts of some, but our society as a whole has clearly improved immensely as history has waged on. Despite this, the use of the terms “racist,” “racists,” and “racism” in the New York Times and the Washington Post increased rapidly between 2011 and 2019. Compared to 2011, the Times’ use of these terms was 700 percent higher in 2019, and, in the Post, the increase was close to 1,000 percent.
To be clear, these numbers do not show that mainstream media outlets have magically improved their ability to spot racism. Instead, they have just chosen to see race and, as a result, racism in countless areas where they should not.
The data collected on media outlets’ coverage of homicides also illustrates the outsized attention they pay to race. A Washington Free Beacon analysis of over 1,000 articles in six major newspapers between 2019 and 2021 found that the race of white homicide offenders is around four times more likely to be mentioned in articles than the race of black homicide offenders, and, when mentioned, white homicide offenders’ race tends to be stated toward the beginning of articles, whereas mentions of black homicide offenders’ race come “overwhelmingly toward the end” of articles.
This is not coincidental. These large disparities indicate that the mainstream media is constantly making editorial decisions with race as a focus.
Now, there are times when race is an important factor in discussions — for example, when discussing instances of racial discrimination. But when every discussion, issue, or story becomes explicitly or implicitly race focused, Americans are manipulated into seeing the world through a collectivist, race-centered lens. As a result, more and more events and issues that have no connection to race are seen as wholly about race, hampering civil discourse. Individuals begin to see their immutable characteristics and differences as primary, and division grows.
Hopefully, Americans will soon see the media’s charade for what it is, and sentiment around white–black relations will return to much higher levels.
Benjamin Ayanian is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, where he studied philosophy, business law, and political science. He has also been published in the Star Tribune and the Wall Street Journal. Follow him on Twitter at @BenjaminAyanian.