Ecosocialist Notebook

On ’60 Minutes’, black Africans are invisible and voiceless

Biased ‘news’ coverage of wildlife and the Ebola crisis illustrates the worst prejudices of modern American journalism on the subject of Africa.

Climate & Capitalism supports this open letter, published in Al Jazeera, March 26, 2015


AN OPEN LETTER TO CBS ’60 MINUTES’ ON ITS AFRICA REPORTING

Dear Jeff Fager, executive producer of CBS’ 60 Minutes

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our grave concern about the frequent and recurring misrepresentation of the African continent by 60 Minutes.

60Minutes

In a series of recent segments from the continent, 60 Minutes has managed, quite extraordinarily, to render people of black African ancestry voiceless and all but invisible.

Two of these segments were remarkably similar in their basic subject matter, featuring white people who have made it their mission to rescue African wildlife. In one case these were lions, and in another, apes. People of black African descent make no substantial appearance in either of these reports, and no sense whatsoever is given of the countries visited, South Africa and Gabon.

The third notable recent segment was a visit by your correspondent Lara Logan to Liberia to cover the Ebola epidemic in that country. In that broadcast, Africans were reduced to the role of silent victims. They constituted what might be called a scenery of misery: people whose thoughts, experiences and actions were treated as if totally without interest. Liberians were shown within easy speaking range of Logan, including some Liberians whom she spoke about, and yet not a single Liberian was quoted in any capacity.

Liberians not only died from Ebola; many of them contributed bravely to the fight against the disease, including doctors, nurses and other caregivers, some of whom gave their lives in this effort. Despite this, the only people heard from on the air were white foreigners who had gone to Liberia to contribute to the fight against the disease.

Taken together, this anachronistic style of coverage reproduces, in condensed form, many of the worst habits of modern American journalism on the subject of Africa. To be clear, this means that Africa warrants the public’s attention only when there is disaster or human tragedy on an immense scale, when Westerners can be elevated to the role of central characters or when it is a matter of that perennial favorite, wildlife.

As a corollary, Africans themselves are typically limited to the role of passive victims or occasionally brutal or corrupt villains and incompetents; they are not otherwise shown to have any agency or even the normal range of human thoughts and emotions. Such a skewed perspective not only disserves Africa; it also badly disserves the news-viewing and news-reading public.

We have taken the initiative of writing to you because we are mindful of the reach of 60 Minutes and of the important role that your program has long played in informing the public. We are equally mindful that American views of Africa, a continent of 1.1 billion people, which is experiencing rapid change on an immense scale, are badly misinformed by much of the mainstream media. The great diversity of African experience, the challenges and triumphs of African peoples and, above all, the voices and thoughts of Africans themselves are chronically and woefully underrepresented.

Over the coming decades, Africa will become the backdrop of some of the most significant developments on the planet, from unprecedented population growth, urbanization and economic change to, potentially, the wholesale reconfiguration of states. We would like to see 60 Minutes rethink its approach to Africa and rise to the challenge of covering topics like these and many more that go well beyond the bailiwick of the staid and stereotypical recent examples cited above. In doing so, 60 Minutes will have much to gain, as will the viewing public.

Signed

  • Howard W. French, associate professor, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, author of China’s Second Continent and A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa
  • Fatin Abbas, Manhattanville College
  • Akin Adesokan, novelist and associate professor, comparative literature and cinema and film studies, Indiana University at Bloomington
  • Anthony Arnove, producer, Dirty Wars
  • Adam Ashforth, department of Afro-American and African studies, University of Michigan
  • Sean Jacobs, faculty, Milano School of International Affairs, the New School, and founder, Africa Is a Country.
  • Teju Cole, distinguished writer in residence, Bard College, photography critic, The New York Times Magazine
  • Richard Joseph, John Evans professor of international history and politics, Northwestern University
  • Leon Dash, Swanlund chair professor in journalism, professor, Center for Advanced Study, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Michael C. Vazquez, senior editor, Bidoun: Art and Culture from the Middle East
  • Achille Mbembe, professor, Wits University and visiting professor of Romance studies and Franklin Humanities Institute research scholar, Duke University
  • M. Neelika Jayawardane, associate professor of English literature at State University of New York at Oswego, and senior editor, Africa Is a Country
  • Adam Hochschild, author
  • Eileen Julien, professor, comparative literature, French and Italian, African studies, Indiana University at Bloomington
  • Mohamed Keita, freelance journalist in NYC, former Africa advocacy coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists
  • Aaron Leaf, producer, Feet in 2 Worlds, the New School
  • Dan Magaziner, assistant professor, history, Yale University
  • Marissa Moorman, associate professor, department of history, Indiana University
  • Sisonke Msimang, research fellow, University of Kwazulu-Natal
  • Achal Prabhala, writer and researcher, Bangalore, India
  • Janet Roitman, associate professor of anthropology, the New School
  • Lily Saint, assistant professor of English, Wesleyan University
  • Abdourahman A. Waberi, writer and professor of French and francophone studies George Washington University
  • Binyavanga Wainaina, writer
  • Chika Unigwe, writer
  • James C. McCann, chair, department of archaeology, professor of history, Boston University
  • Susan Shepler, associate professor, international peace and conflict resolution, School of International Service, American University
  • G. Pascal Zachary, professor of practice, Arizona State University
  • Cara E. Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science, Mary Baldwin College
  • James T. Campbell, Edgar E. Robinson professor of history, Stanford University
  • Nii Akuetteh, independent international affairs analyst, former executive director of OSIWA, the Soros Foundation in West Africa
  • Mary Ratcliff, editor, San Francisco Bay View national black newspaper
  • James Ferguson, Susan S. and William H. Hindle professor, Stanford University
  • Alice Gatebuke, Rwandan genocide and war survivor, communications director, African Great Lakes Action Network
  • Max Bankole Jarrett, deputy director, Africa Progress Panel Secretariat
  • Mohamed Dicko, retired computer applications analyst in St. Louis
  • Mojúbàolú Olufúnké Okome, Ph.D., professor of political science, African and women’s studies, Brooklyn College, CUNY
  • Adam Ouologuem
  • John Edwin Mason, department of history, University of Virginia
  • Dele Olojede, newspaperman
  • Dr. Jonathan T. Reynolds, professor of history, Northern Kentucky University
  • Daniel J. Sharfstein, professor of law, Vanderbilt University
  • Lisa Lindsay, University of North Carolina
  • Anne-Maria B. Makhulu, assistant professor of cultural anthropology and African and African-American studies, Duke University
  • Karin Shapiro, associate professor of the practice African and African-American studies, Duke University
  • Garry Pierre Pierre, executive director of the Community Reporting Alliance, New York City
  • Lynn M. Thomas, professor and chair, department of history, University of Washington
  • Martha Saavedra, associate director, Center for African Studies, University of California at Berkeley
  • Kathryn Mathers, visiting assistant professor, international comparative studies, Duke University
  • Siddhartha Mitter, freelance journalist
  • Alexis Okeowo, contributor, The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine
  • Susan Thomson, assistant professor of peace and conflict studies, Colgate University
  • Nicolas van de Walle, Maxwell M. Upson professor of government, Cornell University
  • David Newbury, Gwendolen Carter professor of African studies, Smith College
  • Charles Piot, professor, department of cultural anthropology and department of African and African-American studies co-convener, Africa Initiative, Duke University
  • Adia Benton, assistant professor of anthropology, Brown University
  • Gregory Mann, historian of francophone Africa, Columbia University
  • Anne Pitcher, University of Michigan
  • Howard Stein, University of Michigan
  • Adam Shatz, The London Review of Books
  • Peter Rosenblum, professor of international law and human rights, Bard College
  • Timothy Longman, African studies center director, chair of committee of directors, Pardee School of Global Studies, associate professor of political science, Boston University
  • Laura E. Seay, assistant professor, department of government, Colby College
  • Robert Grossman, producer
  • Daniel Fahey, visiting scholar at UC Berkeley, served on the U.N. Group of Experts on Democratic Republic of Congo, 2013–15
  • Jennie E. Burnet, associate professor of anthropology, University of Louisville
  • Kim Yi Dionne, assistant professor, Smith College
  • Lonnie Isabel, journalist
  • Karen L. Murphy
  • Ryan Briggs, assistant professor, department of political science, Virginia Tech
  • Yolande Bouka, Ph.D., researcher, Institute for Security Studies
  • Elliot Fratkin, Ph.D., Gwendolen M. Carter professor of African studies, department of anthropology, Smith College
  • Gretchen Bauer, professor and chair, department of political science and international relations, University of Delaware
  • John Woodford, journalist
  • Frank Holmquist, professor of politics, emeritus, School of Critical Social Inquiry, Hampshire College
  • Alice Kang, assistant professor, department of political science, Institute for Ethnic Studies–African and African-American studies, University of Nebraska at Lincoln
  • Michel Marriott, journalist
  • Jennifer N. Brass, Ph.D., assistant professor, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University
  • Séverine Autesserre, department of political science, Barnard College, Columbia University
  • Jill E. Kelly, assistant professor, department of history, Southern Methodist University
  • Dr. Meghan Healy-Clancy, lecturer on social studies and on women, gender and sexuality, Harvard University
  • Dayo Olopade, journalist
  • Mary Moran, Colgate University
  • Sharon Abramowitz, UFL
  • Rebecca Shereikis, interim director, Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa, Northwestern University
  • Barbara B. Brown, Ph.D., director of the outreach program, African Studies Center, Boston University
  • Jeffrey Stringer
  • David Alain Wohl, M.D., associate professor, division of infectious diseases, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Andy Sechler, M.D., instructor in medicine, Harvard Medical School
  • John Kraemer, assistant professor, department of health systems administration and African studies program, Georgetown University
  • Barbara Shaw Anderson, associate director, African Studies Center, lecturer, department of African, African-American and diaspora studies, African Studies Center, University of North Carolina
  • Adrienne LeBas, assistant professor of government, American University, D.C.
  • Catharine Newbury, professor emerita of government, Smith College
  • Ana M. Ayuso Alvarez, epidemiology program applied to the field, M. Art (anthropologist)
  • Cynthia Haq, M.D., professor of family medicine and population health sciences, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
  • Aili Tripp, professor of political science and gender and women’s studies, University of Wisconsin at Madison
  • Gloria Ladson-Billings, professor, department of curriculum and instruction, Kellner Family professor in urban education, University of Wisconsin
  • Anne Jebet Waliaula, Ph.D., outreach coordinator, African studies program, University of Wisconsin at Madison
  • Judith Oki, Salt Lake City, former capacity building adviser for rebuilding basic health services, Monrovia, Liberia
  • Sandra Schmidt, Ph.D., assistant professor of social studies and education, Teachers College, Columbia University
  • Emily Callaci, assistant professor, department of history, University of Wisconsin at Madison
  • Louise Meintjes, associate professor, departments of music and cultural anthropology, Duke University
  • May Rihani, former co-chair of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, author, Cultures Without Borders
  • Tejumola Olaniyan, University of Wisconsin at Madison
  • Selah Agaba, doctoral student, anthropology and education policy studies, University of Wisconsin
  • Casey Chapman, Wisconsin
  • Ted Hochstadt, returned Peace Corps volunteer (Lesotho)
  • Kah Walla, CEO, Strategies, Cameroon
  • Kofi Ogbujiagba, journalist, Madison, Wisconsin
  • Matthew Francis Rarey, visiting assistant professor of art history, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee
  • David B. Levine, consultant in international development, Washington, D.C.
  • Claire Wendland, medical anthropologist, University of Wisconsin at Madison
  • Frederic C. Schaffer, professor of political science, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
  • Joye Bowman, professor and chair, department of history, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
  • Cody S. Perkins, Ph.D. candidate, department of history, University of Virginia
  • Eric Gottesman, Colby College department of art
  • Lynda Pickbourn, Ph.D., assistant professor of economics, School of Critical Social Inquiry, Hampshire College
  • Kate Heuisler, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
  • Henry John Drewal, Evjue-Bascom professor of African and African diaspora arts, departments of art history and Afro-American studies, University of Wisconsin at Madison
  • Sarah Forzley, lecturer in the English department at the University of Paris X Nanterre, France
  • Laura Doyle, professor of English, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
  • Ralph Faulkingham, Ph.D., emeritus professor of anthropology (and former editor, The African Studies Review), University of Massachusetts at Amherst
  • Dr. Jessica Johnson, University of Massachusetts at Amherst history department
  • Joseph C. Miller, University of Virginia, ret.
  • Sean Hanretta, associate professor, department of history, Northwestern University
  • Iris Berger, Vincent O’Leary professor of history, University at Albany
  • Jackson Musuuza, MB.Ch.B., M.P.H., M.S., Ph.D. student in clinical epidemiology, University of Wisconsin at Madison
  • Dr. Anita Schroven, researcher, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle/Saale, Germany
  • Dr. Baz Lecocq, professor, chair of African history, Humboldt University of Berlin
  • Monica H. Green, professor of history, Arizona State University
  • Sandra Adell, professor, department of Afro-American studies, University of Wisconsin at Madison
  • Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg, Broom professor of social demography and anthropology director, African and African-American studies program, acting chair, department of sociology and anthropology, Carleton College
  • Michael Herce, M.D., M.P.H., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia
  • Satish Gopal, M.D., M.P.H., UNC Project-Malawi (director, cancer program), UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases
  • Mina C. Hosseinipour, M.D., M.P.H., scientific director, UNC Project, Lilongwe, Malawi
  • Cliff Missen, M.A., director, WiderNet@UNC and the WiderNet Project, clinical associate professor, School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Groesbeck Parham, professor, UNC (working in Zambia)
  • Norma Callender, San Jose
  • Harry McKinley Williams Jr., Laird Bell professor of history, Carleton College
  • Robtel Neajai Pailey, Liberian academic, London
  • Rose Brewer, professor, University of Minnesota
  • Fodei J. Batty, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science, Quinnipiac University
  • Graham Wells, M.S., P.E., (professor, retired), department of mechanical engineering, Mississippi State University
  • Chouki El Hamel, Ph.D., professor of history, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, Arizona State University
  • Obioma Ohia, postdoctoral fellow, University of Maryland department of physics
  • Paschal Kyoore, professor of French, francophone African/Caribbean literatures and cultures, director, African studies program, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota
  • Preston Smith, chair of Africana studies, professor of politics, Mount Holyoke College
  • Catherine E. Bolten, assistant professor of anthropology and peace studies, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame
  • Michael Leslie, associate professor of telecommunication, College of Journalism and Communications, University of Florida
  • Agnes Ngoma Leslie, senior lecturer and outreach director, Center for African Studies, University of Florida
  • Martin Murray, urban planning and African studies, University of Michigan
  • Laura Fair, associate professor of African history, Michigan State University
  • Elliot Ross, senior editor, Africa Is a Country
  • Peter Alegi, professor of African history, Michigan State University
  • Laura J. Mitchell, associate professor of history, University of California at Irvine
  • Kathleen Sheldon, editor, H-Luso-Africa, and research scholar, UCLA Center for the Study of Women
  • Ibra Sene, associate professor, history and international relations, the College of Wooster, president, the Dakar Institute of African Studies.
  • Judith Van Allen, research fellow, Institute for African Development, Cornell University
  • Ron Krabill, interdisciplinary arts and sciences, University of Washington
  • Noel Twagiramungu, postdoctoral research fellow, World Peace Foundation, the Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Brandon Kendhammer, assistant professor of political science, African studies affiliate faculty, Ohio University
  • Sabrina Buckwalter, communications manager, Columbia University; associate producer, Drone
  • Terrie Schweitzer, writer/consultant, returned Peace Corps volunteer (Ghana 2011–13)
  • Ken Opalo, Stanford University
  • Youssouf Traoré
  • Ron Davis
  • Robin L. Turner, associate professor of political science, Butler University
  • Jeffrey Ahlman, assistant professor of history and African studies, Smith College
  • Madina Thiam
  • Michelle Poulin, Ph.D., consultant, the World Bank, Africa Region
  • Felicia Akanmou, multimedia journalism graduate student, Indiana University, Bloomington
  • Sarah Watkins, lecturer, departments of history and feminist studies, University of California at Santa Barbara
  • Simon Halliday, lecturer, departments of history and feminist studies, University of California at Santa Barbara
  • Sally Orme, educator, returned Peace Corps volunteer (Liberia, 2013–14)
  • Beth Elise Whitaker, associate professor of political science, affiliate faculty in Africana studies, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Rachel Strohm, Ph.D. student, political science, UC Berkeley
  • Nathan J. Combes, Ph.D. candidate, University of California at San Diego
  • Heather Switzer, assistant professor, women and gender studies, Arizona State University, research in southern Kenya, returned Peace Corps volunteer (Ethiopia 1998–99)
  • Casey Chapman, Ebola Survivor Corps
  • Aristide Kemla, University of Florida
  • Peter Schmidt, professor of anthropology and African studies, University of Florida, fellow, World Academy of Art and Science
  • R. Hunt Davis Jr. , professor emeritus of history and African studies, editor-in-chief, African Studies Quarterly, University of Florida
  • Goran Hyden, distinguished professor, political science, University of Florida
  • Erika Kirwen, London
  • Léonce Ndikumana, professor of economics, director of the African development policy program, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
  • Rachael Clifford Ebeledi, Amherst, Massachusetts
  • Mwangi wa Githinji, economics department, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Posted in Africa, Ecosoc Notebook

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