by Walter Brasch
The Texas board of education didn’t find anything wrong with a world geography textbook that said slaves from Africa were workers, but that immigrants from northern Europe were indentured servants.
This is the same school board that five years ago demanded that textbooks emphasize that slavery was only a side issue to the cause of the civil war, and that Republican achievements be emphasized in political science and civics textbooks.
For good measure, the officials also wanted a “fair and balanced” look at evolution versus intelligent design or creationism, and that global warming is only a theory, overlooking substantial and significant scientific evidence.
Because Texas adopts textbooks for the entire state, and there is minimal local choice, publishers tend to publish what Texas wants. The geography book had a 100,000 sale in Texas alone. However, McGraw-Hill, under a firestorm of protest from educators and parents, is modifying the text—African slaves will no longer be “workers” but slaves in the next printing.
Publishers in America, trying to reap the widest possible financial benefit by not offending anyone, especially school boards, often force authors to overlook significant historical and social trends. For more than a century, books which targeted buyers in the North consistently overlooked or minimized Southern views about the Civil War; other books, which targeted a Southern readership, discussed the War of Northern Aggression or the War Between the States.
Almost all media overlooked significant issues about slavery, the genocide against Native Americans, the real reasons for the Mexican-American War, the seizure of personal property and subsequent incarceration of Japanese-American citizens during World War II, the reasons why the United States went to war in Vietnam, the first Gulf War and, more recent, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Textbook publishers, choosing profits over truth, often glossed over, or completely ignored until years or decades later, the major social movements, including the civil rights, anti-war and peace movements of the 1960s and the emerging environmental movement of the 1970s. It was the underground and alternative press that presented the truth that the establishment press under-reported or refused to acknowledge, timidly accepting the “official sources.”
Textbook publishers aren’t the only problem. The news media have ignored or downplayed mass protests against the wars, whether Vietnam or Iraq. They have ignored or downplayed mass protests against fracking. And, during this election year, all media have decided which candidates should get the most news coverage. There are several excellent Republican presidential candidates, but the media like the pompous and boisterous Donald Trump; he gives a good show. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton gets the most coverage of the three major candidates. Analysis of network air time by the Tyndall Reports shows that ABC-TV’s “World News Tonight” during the past year gave Donald Trump 81 minutes of air; it gave Sen. Bernie Sanders less than a minute, although Sanders is drawing even larger crowds than Trump. It’s no different with CBS and NBC television coverage. Total broadcast network time for Trump, according to Tyndall’s data, is 234 minutes; for Sanders, it’s about 10 minutes. The problem, of course, is editorializing by omission.
At one time, the media led the nation in unveiling social injustice and other major problems. Although they had their defects and biases, the nation’s media understood they were the system that helped assure a free and unencumbered forum for debate about major issues. More important, they also understood that their role wasn’t to perpetuate fraud and lies, but to seek out and present the truth. Seemingly in conflict—present all views vs. present the facts and the truth—the media also understood that newsprint and airtime should not be wasted upon being a megaphone for ignorance.
Now, their role is to follow, while pandering to the entertainment value of social and political issues and giving cursory glances at the news value. It’s not what the Founding Fathers believed and, certainly, not what they wanted. But it is, in the 21st century, the media’s vain attempt to restore profits.
[Dr. Brasch has been a journalist more than four decades, reporting and editing on newspapers, magazines, and television. He is also professor emeritus of mass communications from Bloomsburg University. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]