ESPN, Mansplaining, and the U.S. Media

What do NPR, conservative talk radio/media, and ESPN radio have in common?

Upon first blush, likely nothing. And that proves both what they have in common as well as how that unrecognized is the problem.

Let’s start with NPR, as Tracie Powell reports:

Anya Kamenetz, NPR’s education team lead blogger, used one of the network’s official Twitter accounts to tweet that she reaches out to diverse sources, but “only white guys get back to” her. Naturally, the post is catching a lot of attention on Twitter, and rightfully so.

And while this admission is being framed as controversial, I have noted that NPR represents a pattern of whitewashing (see HERE, HERE, and HERE); in other words, what is presented as objective or balanced journalism is actually honoring a white male (and thus dominant) perspective as the unexamined given.

From George Will and Cal Thomas—the old-guard right-wing punditocracy—to Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and others in the so-called new conservative media, whitewashing is the not-so-subtle racism, misogyny, and classism that pass for credible public discourse.

But as long as media objectivity remains a thin mask for (white) mansplaining, the so-called liberal media (NPR, for example) and the right-wing media are fundamentally indistinguishable. It is, then, important that we look closely at ESPN radio, the tour-de-force of (white) mansplaining.

ESPN, Mansplaining, and the U.S. Media

ESPN radio offers listeners a line up that is the antithesis of diversity: Mike & Mike, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, and SVP & Russillo.

This is hour upon hour of white guys holding forth as if their perspective has credibility (often it does not), as if their topics are monumentally important (often they are not), and as if their 20-something, fraternity view of the universe deserves our undivided attention (and that never does).

While the ESPN radio line up is solidly a bunch of white guys (and mostly snarky, arrogant white guys), it is also worth noting that African Americans and women serve roles as side-kicks (and on-air, the women look awfully similar to the eye-candy norm of Fox news).

Instead of careful, nuanced, or informed journalism, ESPN radio offers discourse driven by personality, arrogance, and the corrosive power of (white) mansplaining.

And while it may seem easy or justifiable to discount the danger of this dynamic because this is just sports, the obscene professional sport complex in the U.S. (like ESPN radio itself) is actually fertile ground for exploring lingering issues of race, class, and gender plaguing U.S. efforts at democracy and equity. If anything in the U.S. remains a man’s hostile world, it is professional sport (see HERE and HERE).

If only some in the media would step away from the alluring norm of (white) mansplaining that lulls us deeper into complacency.

The U.S. needs a critical free press whether that press is covering things great or small because major and so-called mainstream media continue to carry George Will and Cal Thomas as if their world views are credible, and not the toxic nastiness they perpetuate.

I invite you to suffer through 20 or 30 minutes of Limbaugh and then about the same time spent with Colin Cowherd. The nearly incoherent navel-gazing mansplaining between the two of them is indistinguishable—but it takes a bit of care to understand that among almost all of the mainstream media the space between right-wing talk radio, ESPN radio, and so-called credible outlets such as NPR, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, and many others is negligible.

If a white man isn’t telling us what and how to think (with a heaping dose of arrogance and juvenile glee), then the foundation of any and all being presented is (white) mansplaining—whether someone is contemplating whether LeBron James is holding the NBA hostage or NPR is fawning over schools teaching impoverished children of color “grit” through the whitewashed story of Steve Jobs.

For those of us fighting the fight and working daily in public education, that the teaching profession is dominated by women and that the students most in need of public education are living in poverty and children of color represent the pervasive and corrosive power of (white) mansplaining at all levels of society, but nowhere is that more distinct than in all aspects of the media, whether we are considering news or entertainment (as if there is a difference).

Too often, as well, when mainstream media allow surface diversity (gender [1] or race), those journalists are throttled by the fair-and-balanced norms—(white) mansplaining—that whitewashes any real diversity of thought.

In the 21st century, the U.S. is ample evidence that we have failed democracy, the free press, and universal public education. And those failures feed the current state of inequity that constitutes the country.

It cannot be stated often enough, then, that the U.S. needs a critical free press and that public narratives need a new mythology, one that not only replaces but refutes the current culture of (white) mansplaining that surrounds us daily.

[1] Consider the female lead of Gravity and how the narrative and motifs of the film play to and re-enforce a rugged individualism theme. The woman (played by Sandra Bullock) has a man’s name, Ryan Stone, and presents a physical presence that walks a thin line between objectifying a woman and highlighting her man-like “look,” athletic, hair cropped short. This is no celebration of a powerful female, but a message that this woman deserves our praise because she rises to the norms of men, created by men. Again, this is not substantially different than the motif on ESPN of praising African American athletes as “articulate.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s