From the turbulence of modern elections to protests over policing in communities of color and fears of religious-inspired terrorism, America is increasingly divided by fierce debates among citizens divided by race, class, culture and belief systems.
Often it seems the nation’s media outlets – which audiences hope will cut through the chaos – instead contribute to it. Either they fumble to understand the issues at hand or they cynically exploit the controversies to build ratings, revenue and influence, regardless of the cost to society.
In his incisive talk, “Building Bridges Instead of Walls: Decoding Media’s Confusing Coverage of Race and Culture,” NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans explains how media outlets have fallen short in covering these issues for their audiences. He also provides tips on how to recognize when media outlets are practicing the politics of division, offering tips on how to decode what their messages are really trying to achieve.
In his presentations, Eric can show how a focus on attracting more advertiser-friendly viewers has led CNN to skirt basic journalism values in courting then-GOP nominee Donald Trump and employing campaign operatives like Democratic Party official Donna Brazile as paid analysts. How a focus on confrontation, especially in cable news, has stifled constructive debate. How online outlets focused on conservative audiences have grown more extreme, mainstreaming stereotypical views about people of color and women in an effort to push back against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. How the fight between ideologically opposed outlets like MSNBC and Fox News has destroyed the general public’s faith in journalism and objective fact. And much more.
Eric offers a guide for how to talk about thorny subjects such as race and culture across racial, class and culture lines, short-circuiting the fear and anger which so often make discussion on these issues difficult.
A TV and media critic with more than 20 years of experience, Eric covers TV and media issues for National Public Radio, providing critiques on these issues for millions of listeners each week on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now, and many other network shows.
His book, Race-Baiter: How the Media Wield Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation, explores these issues in depth, earning rave reviews from Entertainment Weekly, Publisher’s Weekly, the Dallas Morning News, Newsday and many other outlets.
Eric says media outlets often earn big profits by turning audience members against each other; deploying stereotypes, prejudice and racism to attract fans and keep them from competitors. These outlets are often isolated by identity – race, political leaning, gender, religion or some combination thereof – creating a situation where the audience is constantly told its experience is the sole truth.
Others’ experience and expertise begin to take a backseat to each person’s own beliefs. And as the audience gets more power over the success of media outlets, there is more pressure among media outlets to cater to their beliefs, regardless of how outlandish they may be.
Eric says talking about such issues helps defuse them, despite the pushback from those who would shut down such dialog by slinging an ugly term: Race Baiter.
That’s the word Fox News Channel anchor Bill O’Reilly used to describe Eric, who has also hosted CNN’s media analysis show Reliable Sources and who has appeared on or written for The New York Times, PBS’ NewsHour, The Washington Post, ESPN’s The Undefeated, Newsmax magazine, Fox & Friends, the Tampa Bay Times and many other news outlets. Eric notes in his book that those who use the tactics of division to increase their own status often sling that word to shut down discussion instead of encourage it.
With humor, engaging visual displays and data compiled from 20 years’ experience, Eric offers compelling tales of discussing these issues with media figures such as O’Reilly, CBS president Les Moonves, CNN president Jeff Zucker, Fox News star Sean Hannity, MSNBC pundit Al Sharpton, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, late night legend David Letterman and many more media stars.
Eric is a longtime journalist and thought leader who has lectured at Columbia University, Loyola University, George Washington University, the Honors College at the University of South Florida and many other institutions. In November 2016, he will receive the Distinguished Alumni award from The Media School at Indiana University. He currently also serves as a judge for the George Foster Peabody Awards for Excellence in Electronic Media.
In addition to “Building Bridges, Not Walls,” Eric can speak on topics that include journalism ethics, modern pop culture, the changing state of the modern TV industry, TV’s current Golden Age of content, celebrity journalism, the future of media, and more.
“The luncheon was fantastic! He was impeccable and brought a view point onto this campus that I think many people will walk away with a changed mindset, or at least a more open one than they walked in with. I have heard wonderful things about Eric from multiple people.” – Blaise Guerriero, Student Coordinator of Diversity and Inclusion – The University of Tampa
“Eric Deggans is one of the most insightful and provocative writers about television today. In his columns for the St Petersburg Times and his NPR commentaries, Deggans has established himself as a voice worth listening to. His many fans — and I’m one of them — will devour this book.” —Andy Borowitz
“If you care about this country, if you want to take part in a citizen’s movement that helps heal the deep racial, economic, and cultural divides tearing us apart, you must read Eric Deggans’ Race-Baiter. No book of recent vintage so thoroughly dissects the media’s monetized appetite for division. Provocative, honest, and smart, Race-Baiter is a supremely important book. Read it and let the conversation begin.” –Connie May Fowler, Author of Before Women had Wings
“Eric Deggans proves that he is one of the most insightful and courageous writers covering today’s fast-shifting media landscape. This is an important book.” —Michele Norris, NPR’s All Things Considered and founder of The Race Card Project