3rd and Final Installment of Howard Witt Interview
Again, many thanks to the Chicago Tribune’s Howard Witt for his work and this interview. The interview can be viewed in it’s entirety at NowPublic.
DSB Why do you think it took the national media almost 4 months after your original article to cover what was happening in Jena.
HW: It was the complexity of the story, as I mentioned above, which eludes the grasp of reporters-especially TV reporters–in search of simple sound-bites. And it was the sensitivity of anything having to do with race in our society-many reporters shy from such controversial stories.
DSB: What are your thoughts on the debate that has taken place since the Jena Rally regarding how the popular media covers race issues and people of color?
HW: Well, to the extent that people are talking about this issue, I think that’s important. But I have been disturbed-though not surprised-by the backlash from many whites in Jena and elsewhere across the country, who insist that somehow the whole story has not been told and that the media has twisted the Jena story to make the white townsfolk look bad.
I can’t vouch for what other reporters have done with this story, but for my part, I tried very hard to get the white leaders of the town to speak with me when I was down there reporting my original story back in May. Most of them refused my interview requests.
Nor did reporters invent the facts about Jena, including the fact that most of Jena’s white voters cast their ballots for former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke when he ran for Louisiana governor, or the fact that there’s a white barbershop in town where they won’t cut black men’s hair for fear of dirtying their combs and scissors and angering their white patrons.
DSB: Do you think there will be any changes in the coverage moving forward?
HW: Not on my part. I’m continuing to follow the trials of the Jena 6 as they progress. And I’m always on the lookout for other important civil-rights stories that should be told.
I think we can all hope that, in the wake of the Jena demonstration, other reporters will come to understand that there is a huge undercurrent of anger and concern in black America these days that we all ignore at our society’s peril.
DSB: Thanks for your time