The Riot Report and the News

How the Kerner Commission Changed Media Coverage of Black America
Studies the creation of a groundbreaking report on media racism in the 1960s

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On July 28, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson established the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to investigate the causes of unrest in urban black communities during the 1960s. Chaired by Illinois governor Otto Kerner Jr., the commission ominously warned, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” And it aimed its sharpest criticism at the mainstream media, concluding: “The press has too long basked in a white world, looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and a white perspective.” Major news media responded by expanding and diversifying their coverage of black communities and increasing the number of African Americans in their newsrooms.

Although much has been written about the Kerner Commission, the analysis has focused primarily on its affect on the American press. In The Riot Report and the News, Thomas J. Hrach instead explores how the commission came to its conclusions, in order to understand why and how its report served as a catalyst for change. Hrach finds that such government criticism of the media can have a long-term and positive influence on the nation, an insight that remains important as the news continues to struggle with how to cover issues of race.

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