Role of Mass media Spreading Stereotypes Across America By Arnav Gupta


As more exaggerated, twisted, or even blatantly false stories become abundantly available on the news, this study investigates how journalism is becoming an industry motivated by profit instead of honest news reporting. In order to examine this trend in journalism, I analyze news articles and televised media as performances geared to arouse the American audience. When controversial topics regarding mainstream social issues in America take center-stage in the news, news agencies often blur the line between the facts and bias in order to create make-belief performances that will attract the most readers/viewers. These articles or forms of media typically include implicit or explicit assumptions regarding race, gender, ethnicity, culture, or some combination of these sensitive and controversial topics. Additionally, provocative headlines are frequently used to hook or "clickbait" readers or viewers. Through my research, I found that these biases in the news include prejudice and stereotypes regarding non-Western cultures, African Americans, and other minorities. Minorities are already marginalized and discriminated against within America, so this research study focuses on how these performances have only perpetuated and confirmed such stereotypes and further oppressed the minorities in our country ever since news reporting has shifted away from telling stories to performing.



Object of Study: Varying depictions of race in media coverage of Hurricane Katrina

The Associated Press posts a picture of an African American in a yellow shirt carrying a box with one hand and dragging a large black trash bag with the other hand which seems to be filled with many unidentifiable objects. In this image, the water level has risen above the individual's waist, and it seems as if the individual is struggling to travel through the flooded waters. The Associated Press captions this image: "A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans on Aug. 30, 2005. Flood waters continue to rise in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina did extensive damage...". Based on this one snapshot, the Associated Press has concluded that an African American had looted a store. There is another related article/post by the Associate Press headlined "Looting Takes Place in View of La. Police". Underneath the red line in the object of study, Agence France-Presse (AFP) posts an image of two white young-adults in the same flooded waters. This image is very similar to the picture posted by the Associated Press and is posted less than eight hours before the picture of the African American. In the image posted by Agence France-Press, one of the individuals is wearing a cap and a backpack. The other individual is also wearing a backpack while dragging a few items across the water. AFP captions this image: "Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store after Hurricane Katrina came through the area in New Orleans, Louisiana...". Based on this one snapshot, the AFP has concluded that the two white individuals have not looted any stores but are simply gathering resources.

In this study, my argument is that in America, it has become increasingly prevalent that mass media seeks to perform America by proliferating stereotypes deeply-embedded within American culture. Ultimately, what is at stake here is the increased bigotry in America that has shaped our perceptions of other cultures and people. News media should be working against such stereotypes instead of further amplifying them through the loudspeaker of corporate news conglomerates.

When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, the media engaged in repeated broadcasting of African Americans who were often described as “looting” in the wake of the storm.

After the 20th century, American journalism transitioned into “realism” where journalists lined up the facts from most important to least important, leading to a “greater recognition of human subjectivity” (“The Lost Meaning of 'Objectivity'”). Victor Pickard, an Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication with research focusing on media policy, elaborates that the rise of digital journalism diminished revenues for hard news thus creating a profit-motive within the American journalism industry (Pickard).

As a direct consequence of the commercialization of journalism in America, journalism has shifted away from reporting factual, accurate and honest information. Instead, mass media has a greater influence on perpetuating prejudice and stereotypes commonly associated with populations that are often discriminated against in America (Asmelash). Whether events are reported by witnesses present during the event or not, the truth tends to be skewed nonetheless in order to create a more entertaining, popular, and profitable performance for the American audience. “Eyewitness history logically contained more pitfalls than any other, was more vulnerable to interest, bias, illusion, and wishful thinking” (Schlesinger). Such factors like private interest and bias within the media tarnishes the objectivity of journalism- a critical characteristic of honest news reporting. For example, clear bias was evident in the juxtaposition of the two differing portrayals of African Americans and white Americans in the news after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. However, American media has embraced such factors in their journalism to generate greater profits for themselves.

As a result of news spreading regarding African Americans looting, signs were created with malicious intent against such people.

This profit motive in American journalism can be partly attributed to the consolidation of media companies, known as the “Big Six” which has left the news sector dominated by corporate oligopolies (Pickard). Media companies will often publish content that drives the most economic benefit, regardless of the message it conveys- positive or negative, honest or dishonest, biased or unbiased. Two hundred thirty-two media executives control the information diet of over 277 million Americans. In fact, the combined total revenue for the Big 6 in fiscal year 2018 was $275.9 billion (“6 Corporations”).

As the field of journalism becomes increasingly digitized and commercialized, companies are harnessing unethical advertising techniques which stigmatize certain non-Western cultures, but attract more readers/viewers. “[Clickbait] uses emotional hooks to create nearly irresistible psychological frisson for the unsuspecting user. Much of this is accomplished through enticing headlines” (Steffens). Misleading headlines and images that implicitly or explicitly allude to controversial topics regarding race, stereotypes, and prejudice in America lure readers to click on links to exaggerated or untruthful performances of stories. By harnessing the controversy of such subjects, more people come to these websites, read these articles, and believe in the false information.

These advertising techniques can influence how Americans perceive different cultures present within their own country. “Outlandish, entertaining yarns often aimed at reinforcing racial and cultural stereotypes — been more valued and sought after by editors.” For example, Stephen Glass fabricated forty-two articles for the New Republic, Rolling Stones, and other magazines by utilizing racial stereotypes that Americans are accustomed to believing: “In a way, Glass was ahead of his time. He was producing clickbait before the term existed. He was making up facts before the digital age extended that privilege to everyone” (Daum).

Muslims are often portrayed as people engaged in violence within the news.

Since this new digitized industry of journalism seeks to maximize profits, journalists tend to simplify, generalize and stigmatize the ideals of various cultural groups in America without even knowing. The lines between religion, nationality, and individuality have been blurred — especially evident with the Muslim community. “The generalization and stigmatization of Muslims caused for social unrest and division in society, whereby Muslims were constantly confronted about cultural and religious aspects, which often were incorrectly interrelated and caused for even more confusion within the multicultural society” (Asmelash).

Lila Abu-Lughod, professor of Anthropology and Women’s and Gender Studies at Columbia University, has first-hand experience working on women’s rights issues in the Middle East. She explains that after the tragedy of 9/11 and the American response after the war in Afghanistan, people became hungry for information about Muslim women (Shaikh). News sources plaster “neat cultural icons” like “the Muslim woman” over messier historical and political narratives, leading to oversimplification of the culture, and portraying Muslim societies to be patriarchal, where the women are in need of “saving”. This proliferates an incorrect sense of superiority among Westerners, and a fundamentally flawed perception of Islam (Shaikh). Unfortunately, this goes beyond just Islam and oversimplification of other cultures are also prevalent in the news as well. This over-generalization within the news confirms the stereotypes that Americans already believe due to a phenomenon called "confirmation bias" - a psychological tendency to confirm information that one already thinks is correct (Del Vicario, Michela et al.).

As news agencies continue to perform America by confirming the stereotypes that Americans already tend to believe, Americans become stuck in an echo chamber of make-belief. The news is supposed to be a form of objective story-telling of events that occur throughout the world everyday, but news agencies are now frequently found making belief- intentionally enacting the effects they want the American viewers and readers to accept "for real" by blurring the boundary between true news stories and biased performances of these news stories. If this trend in American journalism is not stopped, Americans will forever be stuck in a flawed world of make-belief where minorities will continue to be marginalized and discriminated against.


“6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America.” Morris Creative Group, Morris Creative Group, 26 Feb. 2016, www.morriscreative.com/6-corporations-control-90-of-the-media-in-america/.

Asmelash, Sarah, et al. “Mass Media: The Construction of Ethnic Stereotypes.” Humanity In Action, Humanity In Action, 2014, www.humanityinaction.org/knowledgebase/557-mass-media-the-construction-of-ethnic-stereotypes.

Daum, Meghan. “Stephen Glass, Half Full of New-Media Hypocrisy.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 30 Jan. 2014, articles.latimes.com/2014/jan/30/opinion/la-oe-daum-column-stephen-glass-20140130.

Del Vicario, Michela et al. “The spreading of misinformation online” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 113,3 (2016): 554-9.

Pickard, Victor. “The Problem With Our Media Is Extreme Commercialism.” The Nation, The Nation, 30 Jan. 2017, www.thenation.com/article/the-problem-with-our-media-is-extreme-commercialism/.

Schlesinger, Arthur. “The Historian As Participant.” Daedalus, vol. 100, no. 2, 1971, pp. 339–358.

Shaikh, Nermeen. “Attitudes Toward Muslim Women in the West.” Asia Society, Asia Society, 20 Mar. 2002, asiasociety.org/lila-abu-lughod-attitudes-toward-muslim-women-west. Accessed 25 Jan. 2019.

Steffens, Rob. “The Scientific Reasons Why Clickbait Actually Works.” Blu Leadz Marketing, Tampa Inbound Marketing Agency, 7 June 2018, www.bluleadz.com/blog/the-scientific-reasons-why-clickbait-actually-works.

“The Lost Meaning of 'Objectivity'.” American Press Institute, American Press Institute, 9 Oct. 2013, www.americanpressinstitute.org/journalism-essentials/bias-objectivity/lost-meaning-objectivity/.