Soledad O’Brien returned to her former network CNN Sunday morning to comment on what has turned into one of the most controversial talking points in criticism of media coverage of the Baltimore riots — the use of the word “thug” to describe protesters who destroy public property.
Soledad, who hosted the CNN documentary Black In America, consistently addressed the topic of race in her time on the network. When called in to speak with Frank Sesno on Reliable Sources, O’Brien argued that the word “thug” is consistently used within the confines of a protester with a certain skin color and economic background. When sports-related riots ensue, she says, participants have been called “revelers” or similarly unoffensive words, even when shootings and massive property destruction took place.
“I think what Baltimore city councilman Carl Stokes was trying to tell Erin Burnett is that thug is a proxy. It’s a word that we use instead of the ‘n’ word, and I think that’s really true. I can’t think of a situation where there’s ever been a headline where someone has called a white, young person who is in the middle of a violent protest, demonstration, whatever, a thug. We use it all the time when we’re talking about people in the inner city.”
Frank countered Soledad by noting that several prominent black public figures, including President Barack Obama and Baltimore city mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, have used the word and that it doesn’t appear to have any documented historical context as a racial slur. O’Brien was, however, firm in her stance that journalists have a responsibility to use language that doesn’t project an interpretation of an event.
“Doesn’t meant that [Obama and Rawlings-Blake] don’t have a specific agenda when they’re using it. I think journalists shouldn’t have an agenda… For journalists to have a debate back and forth about thugs or thuggery is naive and misplaced. Journalists should strive to use words to describe accurately what’s happening.”
Soledad continued to be pressed by the host about why she felt that the word “thug” was not appropriate to use in describing violent, criminal aggressors. O’Brien asserted that the way “thug” and “riot” are being used to specifically address African-Americans who engage in acts of violence related to protest.
“I think there’s violent protesters, there’s drunk protesters, angry protesters. When you look specifically about how the word riot is used, how the word thug is used, it’s always used around people of color, specifically in an inner city context … Journalists should think about a word that actually doesn’t have a lot of nuance and isn’t specific, but somehow seems to be used a lot when talking about African-Americans.”
What do you think about Soledad O’Brien’s argument to cut “thug” out of journalism?
[Image via CNN]