Latinos Rarely Mentioned in U.S. Media
La Opinión, News Report, Pilar Marrero, Translated by Elena Shore Posted: Dec 08, 2009
Thanks to Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, news about Latinos in U.S. media during the first half of this year wasn’t dominated by Mexican drug violence or the H1N1 outbreak that paralyzed Mexico City.
Those were the second and third most important Latino stories in U.S. media. But coverage of Sotomayor surpassed both, becoming one of the most important stories in the country.
That doesn’t mean that “mainstream” media covered much about Latino life, however. An in-depth study of nearly 35,000 articles in major media outlets between Feb. 9 and Aug. 9, 2009, which was released Monday by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Project for Excellence in Journalism, found very little coverage of Latinos and even less of other minority groups.
“During the six months examined, 2.9 percent of the news content studied contained substantial references to Hispanics,” the report indicates.
Of 34,452 articles, only 654 made any reference to Latinos and 57 focused directly on an aspect of Latino life in the United States.
Fifty-five English-language U.S. media were studied, including 13 newspapers, 15 cable TV shows, morning and evening TV news shows, 12 Web sites and nine radio programs.
The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, which took place during that period, constituted 39 percent of the Latino-related articles. Mexico’s war on drugs represented 15 percent, and the beginning of the H1N1 flu, which at one time was called the “Mexican flu,” made up 13 percent of the coverage.
Although much was said about the fact that being Latina was not the most important part of her nomination – obviously her qualifications were the most important – the Latino issue was mentioned in half of the news stories about Sotomayor.
But a parallel study conducted by academics at Cornell and Stanford, who analyzed the concepts repeated most often by the media during the same period of time, found that the term “wise Latina” was one of the most widely used expressions in American media.
“Between Feb. 1 and July 3, the phrase “wise Latina” was repeated more than 2,500 times,” according to the analysis. The term became controversial after a video was released in which Sotomayor, in a speech she made before she was nominated, said that a “wise Latina” could make better decisions on certain matters than an Anglo man. The phrase was used to criticize Sotomayor and label her as racist. It even played a significant part in her confirmation hearings.
A very small percentage of the stories had to do with the Latino experience and their life in the United States.
Among the most frequently mentioned Latinos, the greatest by far was Sotomayor, who was mentioned in 30 percent of the “Latino” stories. Much less coverage went to Latin American leaders like ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya (mentioned 1.7 percent of the time), Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez (1.4 percent) and Mexican President Felipe Calderón (1.1 percent). Seven percent of the stories referred to President Barack Obama in the context of the Latino community.
The study focused specifically on three media outlets that had more stories about Latinos, although they weren’t all necessarily positive. In March, NBC Nightly News produced a series of stories titled “We the People,” about the Latino population in the United States, and over the course of six months, eight of the 18 articles about Latinos in the American press were published in the New York Times.
And then there is Lou Dobbs – who is no longer on the air – but who was responsible for half of all the references to Latinos on cable channels. The mention of Latinos on cable TV, of course, was negligible: 1.9 percent of the cable TV news mentioned this population.
When mainstream American media provided news about Latino life, it was dominated by stories about the effects of the recession, immigrants, and the general Hispanic population. Among the latter were stories that covered fair treatment and incidents of racial discrimination.
Among stories about Mexico’s drug war, the majority of the coverage (79 percent) had to do with the war’s effect on the United States, for example, the border violence that extended to this side of the border or the effect on relations between the two countries. Only one-fifth of the stories focused on the effects of the drug war in Mexico.
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