Media bias has pushed a hateful agenda towards Martin Luther King, Jr. for decades. The public is losing trust in the ability of mass news media to tell the truth.
A great man whose impact has changed the face of America, Martin Luther King, Jr. should have been alive today to see the fruits of his legacy, a concept poignantly expressed by the elegant video, Imagine, created by the Anti-Defamation League in celebration of that organization’s 100th anniversary.
Dr. King awakened an entire generation with his courage and eloquence when he spoke these words on August 28, 1963, from a stage at from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.: “ I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.’”
He was as much the victim of hateful lies as he was of the man who pulled the trigger that ended his life.
Hate crime is now punishable under U.S. law, but what of those who incite that hatred and the irresponsible media who seek out hate speech and spread it?
Not only did Dr. King have to contend with hateful coverage from reactionary media in the South, his last few years were dogged by demeaning, condescending and even incendiary coverage from the likes of Life magazine, the Washington Post and Reader’s Digest according to the media watchdog group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Media Reporting). In their article, “The Martin Luther King You Don’t See on TV,” FAIR shows how mainstream media inflamed anti-King sentiment in the last years of his life.
FAIR points out this invective was aimed at Dr. King’s stand on both U.S. domestic and foreign policy. “He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without ‘human rights’ — including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow.” And he was derided for his equally forceful condemnation of U.S. foreign policy including the Vietnam War. Life magazine called his speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” a “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.”
Dr. King inspired a movement to create an America that lives up to the vision of its founding fathers. And with freedom must come the responsibility to use that freedom ethically.
The institution in which freedom of press is entrusted has failed the American public. According to Gallup Poll results released in September 2015, the majority of Americans have had little or no trust in the mass media, with as few as four in 10 Americans having “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust and confidence in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly.
A recent article from Politico, titled “The Public’s Correct Not to Trust the Media,” concludes with the admonition, “If you consume a lot of news and you don’t trust everything you see, you’re probably doing it right.” A similar view is exposed by the Mormon Church in a piece titled “Journalistic Integrity and the Compartmentalization of Ethics,” which states “An informed citizenry, it is often said, is the bulwark of democracy. The basic principles of journalistic integrity – objectivity in reporting, detachment from personal bias, and disinterested duty to the truth – are essential in facilitating public trust and civil discourse. All individuals and institutions, including churches, share an interest in contributing to these worthy goals.”
Another article with a similar view, this time in Freedom Magazine, a publication by the Church of Scientology, by Dr. Thomas E. Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, states, “A recent poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics found that only 12 percent of young adults trust the news media to ‘do the right thing.’” It goes on to point out that this is a serious failing, as “An informed public is vital to a properly functioning democracy. We can’t manage that on our own. We depend on the media to keep us informed…. That imperative extends beyond those who produce daily news stories. It applies also to the magazine writers, the book authors and the documentary filmmakers that present themselves as conveyers of fact. They’re reporters, too. We need them to tell it straight.”
In celebrating Dr. King’s legacy, let us demand of our media that they discharge the rights with which they are entrusted responsibly.
Only then can we really fulfil Dr. King dream to:
…let freedom ring. From the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire, let freedom ring. From the mighty mountains of New York, let freedom ring. From the mighty Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only there; let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain in Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill in Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we're free at last!"