Are mainstream media doing enough to expose the hypocrisy of the Republican Party with regard to people of color and issues they care about?
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former Alabama Rep. Artur Davis were among the long list of minority politicians featured at the 2012 Republican National Convention in August. While those who spoke there were markedly diverse, RNC delegates were overwhelmingly white.
Some media outlets such as The Washington Post reported on this racial disconnect, noting that just 2 percent of Republican delegates were African-American. Overall, the Republican Party is 87 percent white and the Democratic Party 61 percent white, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The 2010 U.S. Census recorded the nation's non-Hispanic white population at 64 percent.
Advocates for communities of color express concern about the GOP's array of minority speakers even as some policies that conservatives tout are widely regarded as detrimental to people of color, including strident anti-illegal immigration measures, cuts in social service programs and anti-Muslim legislation. The issue is compounded because mainstream media rarely cited these contradictions.
Political experts say news coverage should have noted that Republicans of color featured at the convention don't generally represent political views of American minority groups. Also missing in the coverage, they say, is whether minorities have influential positions in Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's campaign.
Viviana Hurtado, the nonpartisan political writer behind The Wise Latina Club blog, covered both conventions. Her take on seeing Latino Republicans such as Rubio, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz of Texas speak is that the "face doesn't match the base."
"There in Tampa, I didn't see Latino representation or really minority representation," Hurtado says. Latino Republicans have won gubernatorial and congressional offices, and the GOP did discuss how Romney's economic platform would benefit Latinos. But Hurtado says the GOP failed to address the "elefante (elephant) in the room – immigration.
"There has been an avoidance of the immigration issue," Hurtado says. "Latinos have been told Gov. Romney will deal with immigration once he's elected. That's a promise Latinos are very, very wary of."
Hurtado says Latinos are reluctant to trust the GOP on immigration given that prominent Republican Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state, helped to devise controversial legislation to crack down on unauthorized immigration in Arizona and Alabama.
Opponents of such legislation argue that it will result in racial profiling and harassment of Latinos. Romney hasn't taken a clear stance on immigration reform and during Republican primaries, urged undocumented immigrants to "self-deport."
The mainstream media haven't pressured Romney to spell out his plan on immigration and didn't stress his failure to do so during coverage of the convention. If more Latinos held positions of power in mainstream media, coverage may have highlighted that fact, Hurtado says.
Hurtado also takes issue with how Democrats engaged Latinos at their convention and says Democrats must focus on issues beyond immigration. While reporting on the DNC, she attended two panels about voter suppression and the economy and says she was shocked to discover that no Hispanics were on either.
Republican political consultant Raynard Jackson also criticizes both parties. He says the GOP is unlikely to attract voters of color by featuring a diverse lineup of convention speakers. "It was a stupid strategy," he says. "It's not going to provide any dividends. It's insulting."
Jackson says the media should have examined how many people of color have influential positions in Romney's campaign, and he notes that Romney has no people of color controlling his campaign budget or exercising authority over others. Jackson says he doesn't consider that Tara Wall, a senior communications adviser to the campaign who serves primarily to help with African-American outreach, is such a figure.
Jackson criticizes both parties for not granting more interviews to the black press.
Last week, on TheLoop21.com, the black interest website, political blogger Aaron Morrison wrote an op-ed headlined "GOP Leaders Won't Acknowledge Party Racism Because They Don't Have To." He says the sheer whiteness of the Republican Party has made race an issue that conservatives don't even have to engage. But he says media should point out that Republicans have backed photo-ID laws and cuts to social services, moves that could hurt communities of color.
Moreover, Morrison says Rubio and two other minority speakers at the convention – former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Mia Love, a Utah congressional candidate – don't appear to believe that institutional racism is a major problem, a viewpoint that largely contrasts with feelings of civil rights groups.
Rice, for example, is "a woman who is proud to black," Morrison says. "She transcended and overcome a lot of racial discrimination. Her story is racism still exists but blacks can achieve and go really far in life."
While that statement is true, Morrison notes that not everyone can pull themselves up by the bootstraps.
During the GOP convention, Republicans also featured people from different religious faiths. A Sikh was invited to deliver a prayer, a seeming show of solidarity after Wade Michael Page, an Army veteran with white supremacist ties, shot and killed six Sikhs at a Wisconsin temple in August. Page's motive remains unclear, but reports have speculated that he mistook the Sikhs for Muslims.
Corey Saylor, legislative director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, says Republicans must be held accountable for anti-Muslim legislation and rhetoric.
In July, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., and four other conservative Republicans in Congress accused Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an international political group linked to terrorist acts.
"What we see is rhetoric that essentially defines Muslims as a threat to frighten voters," Saylor says. "It's an unfortunate trend we see in the Republican Party."
Saylor says the media must do more than simply repeat politicians' wild accusations about Muslims, noting that former presidential contenders Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich have also spoken negatively about them. Repeating such claims without analysis fuels misperceptions about Muslims, Saylor says.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the charges against Abedin "sinister accusations" with "no logic, no basis and no merit," and House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said, ". . . I think accusations like this being thrown around are pretty dangerous." GOP conservatives haven't been as quick to counter Islamophobic rhetoric.
John Bolton, a Romney foreign policy adviser and former George W. Bush administration official, said he was "mystified" by criticism of Bachmann.
Thinkprogress.org, an alternative news site, reported that Romney refused to tell reporters at an event in Reno, Nev., whether Bachmann's comments about Abedin crossed the line, saying, "I'm not going to tell other people what things to talk about. Those are not things that are part of my campaign."
Bolton has also been criticized for agreeing to speak at a 9/11 event organized by conservative activist Pamela Geller, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "the anti-Muslim movement's most visible and flamboyant figurehead. . . . relentlessly shrill and coarse in her broad-brush denunciations of Islam . . . .
Saylor describes Geller as "the mouthpiece of the anti-Muslim movement," and says, "Government officials will not appear with anti-Semites and white supremacists, so equally they should not appear with Muslim haters."
In 2000, the media highlighted then-presidential candidate George W. Bush's appearance at Bob Jones University, a Christian school in Greenville, S.C., that at that time banned interracial dating. Under political pressure because of news coverage, Bush expressed regret for not criticizing the policy, and the ban was eventually dropped. Media exposure can play a similar role today, especially when people of color are represented in newsrooms.
"We need journalists of color at the highest levels, not just out front anchoring and reporting but also at the management level," Hurtado says. "When you don't have journalists of color, what's going to be absent is context."
Nadra Kareem Nittle writes media critiques for the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. Her stories and other media critiques are available at www.mije.org/mmcsi and can be republished free of charge. For more information, please contact Elisabeth Pinio at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-891-9202.