It is impossible to read a history of press coverage of the civil rights movement without reflecting darkly on today’s era of secret surveillance, clandestine prisons, and prosecutorial threats against newspapers that expose government misdeeds. As the struggle in the South illustrated, only when reporters throw spotlights on the ugliest behavior does the conscience of the country begin to stir. Only when the press is relentless at portraying awful truths, even in the face of danger, will that conscience mobilize for change. That’s how it works in an open political system that owes its allegiance to an informed people.
So begins a Columbia Journalism Review post about Roberts and Klibanoff’s The Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation, a history of the role of the media in the US civil rights struggle.
On the Media had an interview with the authors, and there is more discussion of the book over at Crooked Timber. Henry Farrell cites two articles which make the link between press involvement in the civil rights movement and the rise of conservative opposition to the “mainstream media.” Finally, Henry asks whether this legacy has resulted in the tendency of the press to “tiptoe around the political importance of racism in the South today”?