In a media environment where the critiques begin as soon as the news breaks, a book like this ought to offer more interesting narratives, better interviews, and deeper insights than its online competitors. Instead, reading Race-Baiter feels a lot like browsing the “related links” section of a critical race blog; the book never builds to a coherent argument. Though Deggans interviews behind-the-scenes figures like the Trayvon Martin family’s PR rep and in-the-spotlight guys like embattled radio and TV commentator Juan Williams, he fails to process their broader social relevance. Mostly, though, he fails to recognize that the media game those figures are playing will soon be obsolete.
The members of my generation are not TV people or print people—we are Internet people. We are about as likely to watch Bill O’Reilly as we are to invest in gold bars. But in Deggans’s work, new media consumption never takes center stage—it’s always employed as the setup for successes like Breitbart’s or failures like Limbaugh’s. Deggans’s book is ostensibly an overview of media attitudes toward race in the 21st century, but it more or less dismisses the Internet as a place where stories circulate in an attempt to influence the “mainstream.” In September, 9.6 million Americans visited Gawker in one week. The Internet is the mainstream.
At nearly the last page, Deggans allows that “online outlets can. . .be a cure for our ‘horizontal segregation,’” and don’t always make everything worse. For me, the potential positive power of the Internet is no big reveal. I don’t know if the Internet offers more opportunities for journalists of color than the traditional avenues do. But I refuse to just believe it’s worse than the old model, without a thorough accounting.