How the Press Reported on Racism, and How It Didn’t

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“At no other time in U.S. history were the news media more influential than they were in the 1950s and 1960s,” argues “The Race Beat,” an important study of how journalists covered the civil rights movement. One might imagine that influence was all to the good, but Gene Roberts, a former managing editor at The New York Times, and Hank Klibanoff, a managing editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, describe here in richly instructive detail how, more often than not, the professional performance of both Southern newspapers and national beacons like The Times left much to be desired....

The Times’s gentlemanly Southern correspondent, John N. Popham, told readers that, “overridingly,” white Mississippians viewed the Till murder “with sincere and vehement expressions of outrage.” The jury’s behavior belied that, and months later, when Mr. Popham led off an unprecedented, 50,000 word, eight-page Times special section on the emerging civil rights struggle, Mr. Roberts and Mr. Klibanoff report that the paper fundamentally missed what was brewing in the South.

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