Native TV Information Is Out of date and Unfit to Report on Los Angeles In 2020 | by Kevin Varzandeh | Dec, 2020
In a year when the dynamics of power and oppression couldn’t be clearer, television journalism is missing the moment.
A California Highway Patrol officer approaches a reclaimed vacant state house in El Sereno. (PHOTO: CERISE CASTLE)
In the late hours of Thanksgiving Eve, when California Highway Patrol officials used battering rams and rifles to forcibly remove unsafe families from vacant state homes, local independent reporters shared shocking images of police violence on Twitter.
Meanwhile, local news outlets flooded the airwaves with helicopter footage of the scene, devoid of context about the events that led to the violence. When ABC7 was preparing its newscast at 11pm, they triggered this alert via their mobile app:
(PHOTO: Kevin Varzandeh)
With that brief clickbait, ABC7 wasn’t telling viewers who was in the houses or why they were there – just that they weren’t “supposed to be” there, as defined by an undisclosed ideological framework that viewers should simply accept. They described the scene as a “wild confrontation” and invoked a neutral framework, as if the conflict between the country’s largest state police agency and a handful of families with unsafe homes were on a balanced playing field.
When the newscast aired, the anchors cut from their helicopter overhead to a live shot and a chyron boomed, “MASSIVE NEIGHBORHOOD CONFRONTATION.” Chris Christi, the helicopter reporter for ABC7, launched a biased police account of what was happening on the ground, which incidentally implied that officers were “forced to beat up” people.
If Christi had been reporting on site, and perhaps not working for a tax-evading, multi-billion dollar media company, he might have noticed that the person who was hogtied was a 17-year-old who was excited to have her own bedroom for the first time. Christ also failed to notice who had brought the violence, why the reclaimers were there, or how those events fit into the wider portrayal of reclamation protests across the city and state.
Coverage of the events on Wednesday night was nowhere near the only time local television media missed the mark. NBCLA’s long-running Streets of Shame segment, which covers the homeless crisis through a dehumanizing, fascist lens, sank to a new low earlier this month. Her “award-winning” reporter, Joel Grover’s McMansion Tents segment, featured the makeshift showers, cooling systems, kitchens and other basic living facilities that camp residents have installed to make life on the streets slightly more bearable. Grover didn’t interview a single resident person for the play, but he spoke extensively with a BID director, a landlord, and a former city council member. What could have been a story about the ingenuity of some of the impoverished and downtrodden Angelenos was instead another story designed to belittle the poor and face the unjustified fears of a rich and sheltered audience.
Local television coverage of the Los Angeles City Council’s District 4 race was virtually non-existent, despite the fact that Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein endorsed the race, covered major national publications, and volunteered to support the challenger’s campaign in unprecedented fashion.
CBS2 had no coverage of the David Ryu and Nithya Raman race until October 20, when it ran a piece in which Ryu falsely claimed that Raman’s team campaigned in polling centers during the March primaries. NBC4 did not have any substantial coverage of the race or the candidates other than to provide post-primary and general election results. ABC7 released a candidate getting to know piece in February and a near-identical piece in October in which the level of detail of the candidates was similar to a third grader’s book report. Amazingly, FOX11 first mentioned the race or the candidates on November 6th, three days after the election, when Ryu conceded.
And last spring, local TV coverage of the first protests following the murder of George Floyd focused on property damage rather than the dramatic escalation of violence against law enforcement protesters.
I am far from the only writer to criticize the sensational type of television news that hits the homes of millions of households every night. But it has to be repeated, because as the material conditions of the working class continue to decline, neoliberal politicians and incompetent governments tend to react with comical absurdity or nothing at all. The result will inevitably be more TV-worthy clashes between victims and defenders of these systems of oppression. And these television-worthy clashes form the media landscape in which millions of households cook dinner, fold laundry, or fall asleep.
A Gallup poll last year found that 74% of Americans trust local television news, more than any other news source they surveyed. Local TV channels surpassed all other news sources in terms of trustworthiness among Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike. The same poll found that 51% of Americans get their news from local television networks at least several times a week, indicating the medium’s reach.
In other words, people seem to really like and trust the racist, classicist, and scary content offered by CBS2, NBC4, ABC7, and FOX11. The power and notoriety of local television news institutions make them serious barriers to highlighting the narratives of the most underserved and invisible groups in society. This underscores the key role of independent and alternative local media, less tied to the whims of corporate sponsors or pressures to flatter the ruling class.
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