Yale Professor Finds News Media Distort Poverty Along Racial Lines

Most poor people in the United States are white, but the news media generally show them as black, according to research by Martin Gilens, assistant professor of political science and a fellow of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University.

Based on a study covering 1988-1992, Professor Gilens found that although African Americans account for only 29 percent of America’s poor, national news magazines including Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report illustrate stories about the poor with images of black people 62 percent of the time. Evening newscasts from ABC, NBC, and CBS distort reality even further: When they do a story that involves the poor, 65 percent of the people shown are African American.

“By implicitly identifying poverty with race, the news media perpetuate stereotypes that work against the interests of both poor people and African Americans,” Professor Gilens argues.

Professor Gilens presented his findings in “Race and Poverty in America: Public Misperceptions and the American News Media,” published in the Public Opinion Quarterly, December 1996. He also discussed his research at the National Association of Black Journalists – NABJ – Conference in Chicago last month. The NABJ, citing his work, has called for an end to “the news media’s ‘black face’ on poverty” and cited an urgent need for ethnic diversity and education among media decision-makers.

Professor Gilens is available for interviews, and copies of his paper can be faxed on request.

Share this with Facebook Share this with Twitter Share this with LinkedIn Share this with Email Print this

Media Contact

Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325