HOGGING THE SPOTLIGHT

David Hogg has pissed off many people thrice his age. Count me among them.

I’m not mad at the 17-year-old Parkland student for his fiery gun-control speeches or his fuck-you attitude toward Gen X assholes. I’ve been savoring every minute of both. But I’m irked by a single comment the mainstream media have uncritically reported.

From Newsweek

Marjory Stoneman Douglas student David Hogg, now a prominent activist in the #NeverAgain movement, said the media’s biggest mistake while covering the shooting at his school was not giving black survivors a prominent voice.

From Teen Vogue

When asked what the biggest mistake the media had made in covering the Parkland students’ work, he told Axios, “Not giving black students a voice. My school is about 25 percent black, but the way we’re covered doesn’t reflect that.”

…but no one asked any follow-up questions.

The only fact-checking I could find were a few tweets by a reporter for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the daily newspaper whose circulation area encompasses Parkland…

…and in another tweet, Dan Sweeney linked to the school district’s own spreadsheet showing Hogg’s “about 25 percent” is really less than half that.

A few days later, I had lunch with Sweeney. I asked him, regardless of those stats…

How should reporters seek out Parkland’s “black survivors”? 

….because you can’t just stroll into the school cafeteria, locate a dark-skinned kid eating a sandwich, and ask, “Hey, can I interview you because you’re black?”

Sweeney agreed that would likely draw the attention of “school resource officers.”

I live in the same county as Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and I’ve spoken in the building where the murders took place. I’m also a Sun Sentinel subscriber. (In the early ’90s, I was a reporter there.)

So trust me when I tell you: The Sun Sentinel has quoted everyone possible since Valentine’s Day. Sure, the coverage has skewed white – because none of the 17 victims were black, the most vocal survivors (like Hogg) are white, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas is tied for 25th among Broward County public schools with the fewest black students. That’s out of 347 schools.

But let’s not hide behind numbers. The truth is, the news media seldom leads. It mostly follows. David Hogg is partly responsible for how the news media covers his story.

Check out the Sun Sentinel’s March for Our Lives roundup, which prominently displays six videos – three of black women. In fact, Hogg is the only white male.

The Sun Sentinel could feature those women because Parkland students like Hogg “shared their platform with activists of color who’ve spent years pressing the issue,” as Vibe reported.

That’s awesome. And the media covered it. But the media can’t create that.

On a recent Twitter chat, Hogg said this about the Parkland shootings….

There’s a lot of racial disparity in the way that this is covered. If this happened in a place of a lower socio-economic status or a black community, no matter how well those people spoke, I don’t think the media would cover it the same.

Hogg is conflating several different media critiques. He’s wrong about most, but certainly not all, of them – which is pretty damn good for a teenager, especially compared to his elders who should know better….

First…

I challenge Hogg to find one “racial disparity” in the Sun Sentinel’s Parkland coverage. What student of color or “lower socio-economic status” have reporters ignored? Because we’ve already established it’s not easy or always ethical to seek them out.

The Sun Sentinel would’ve covered the crap out of this story even if it happened at Dillard High School, which is 96 percent black. Big daily newspapers don’t ignore mass shootings in their own backyard, whatever the color and status.

Second…

Hogg might be right about the national media. They prefer white-people tragedies.

Everything else being equal, CNN and FOX will cover the kidnapping of little white girl with blond hair over a little black girl with nappy hair. That’s not even my opinion. There have been academic studies on the topic. Even the media has covered the media not covering all abductions equally.

Especially on a national level, the news business is less about “news” than “business.” National media outlets follow their customers’ caucasian-loving eyeballs because that’s where the money is. So changing the media won’t solve this particular problem. You need to change the audience.

Third…

Covering what happens is different than investigating what happens. The news media do both, although not nearly enough of the latter – because it’s a cash, staff, and time suck. But in the rare instances where the media leads, this is where it happens.

Alas, many readers and viewers don’t care about investigative journalism, and these projects fade quicker than newsprint under a sunlamp. That’s probably why Hogg hasn’t seen all the recent award-winning investigative stories on “racial disparity” and “lower socio-economic status.” Like this and this and this.

Trust me, it’s frustrating when journalists care more about these issues than their readers do.

Fourth…

I don’t know how many reporters have interviewed David Hogg, but I can guess with some precision they wouldn’t treat him differently if he was darker and poorer. I can’t speak for their editors and their publishers, but most reporters I know – even middle-aged white guys like Dan Sweeney – are acutely aware of their white privilege.

If anything, Hogg is being treated differently because of the age of his skin, not its color. No reporter wants to pose harsh questions, lest they get glancingly compared to the likes of Laura Ingraham.

But someone should at least correct Hogg on his facts and educate him on his opinions. He’s still a student, after all. Even if he’s already wiser than many beyond his years.