The Media Today

The media today: In search of the white supremacy beat

August 22, 2017

In the years since September 11, 2001, Americans have suffered more violent terrorism from figures connected to right-wing and white supremacist groups than from Islamic extremists. Given that reality, Christiana Mbakwe asks a simple question: “Why don’t we cover white supremacy the way we cover ISIS?

In a piece for CJR, Mbakwe worries that “there is a significant risk newsrooms will treat Charlottesville the way they treated the church murders in Charleston—like an aberration rather than a symptom of an ideology knitted into the fabric of America.” Indeed, while violent events like Charlottesville or Charleston rate intense national coverage, sustained reporting on white supremacy, its roots, the methods of its proponents, and their attempts to expand is harder to find.

It’s past time, Mbakwe writes, for a white supremacy beat. In the past year, there have been steps in this direction. ProPublica’s “Documenting Hate” project aims to collect and verify reports of hate crimes and bias incidents. But Mbakwe argues more is needed. She suggests journalists emulate the work of ISIS experts like The New York Times’s Rukmini Callimachi, who has embedded in online communities used by terrorists and their sympathizers, and has reported on the ground from areas where terrorist groups are active. By focusing on all aspects of ISIS, from ideology, to propaganda strategies, to recruitment, to execution of attacks, Callimachi’s continuous reporting has created a window into the way the group operates.

Hours after Mbakwe’s piece posted, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s exploration of Dylann Roof demonstrated what apex reporting on the white supremacy beat would look like. Ghansah’s piece, “A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof,” deserves all of the praise it’s getting. After traveling to Charleston with the intention of reporting on Roof’s nine victims, Ghansah instead found herself drawn to the silent terrorist who refused to explain himself. “I decided that if he would not tell us his story, then I would,” she writes. Her story for GQ is well worth your time.

Below, more coverage of white supremacy.


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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.