Donna Brazile, Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, and Rev. Leah Daughtry are leading one of the most important Democratic Party conventions ever. But you wouldn’t know that going by mainstream news reports
The Democratic Party is making history again. It just named three black women to the top leadership posts of any major political party in history.
But unless you get information from news sites that target black audiences, you probably don’t know this, or know how big a deal it is, as most mainstream news organizations aren’t reporting it.
“At the moment, we are not working on a story along this vein,” said Sonya Ross, Race and Ethnicity Editor at AP News. Representatives from The New York Times, Washington Post and Huffington Post (not even on its black news vertical, HuffPost BlackVoices) did not immediately respond for comment to say if they would cover the story, and based on their websites this news is nowhere to be found.
Donna Brazile is interim chair of the party. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio is permanent chair of the convention. Reverend Leah Daughtry has twice served as the convention CEO. This marks the first time in history three African-American women have led a major political party. But most mainstream news organizations are caught up in the feeding frenzy over the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chairwoman of the Democratic National Convention and head of the Democratic National Committee due to emails released by WikiLeaks. The emails show some DNC workers favored Hillary Clinton over Senator Bernie Sanders.
Contrary to mainstream media organizations, NBCBLK, a vertical launched last year by NBC News to cover stories about and for black communities, posted a story about the significance of three black women running the party. The piece, written by freelancer Lauren Victoria Burke, provides readers with mini-profiles about each of the three women. (Follow Burke and other journalists of color who are covering the Democratic Convention via a Twitter list compiled by AllDigitocracy.) TheRoot.com also produced a story early this morning. Titled, “Who’s Running the DNC? All Black Women,” the piece refers back to NBCBLK’s story and focuses Fudge’s call for unity and respect. Errol Louis, a black columnist for The New York Daily News, also made note of the social and political milestone.
NOLA.com and The Chicago Tribune make note that of Brazile being named chair of the party, while The Los Angeles Times briefly introduced readers to Fudge and washingtonpost.com published a Q&A with Daughtry; but each of these news organizations fail to report on the other women, and also fail to put the historic moment into context. (The brief in The LA Times is written by Javier Panzar, who is also included in our journalists of color convention coverage list.)
The fact that the three appointments seem not to be a big deal for most mainstream news organizations is similar to the low-key moment of Clinton becoming the first woman presidential nominee of a major political party. In that case, pundits say Clinton’s ascent doesn’t feel historic because she’s been in politics for so long.
But what’s the excuse for why journalists are so quiet about Brazile, Fudge and Daughtry?
While mainstream media may not find these events newsworthy, those attending the DNC believe these events are extremely important to the party and are historically significant as well.
“It says how far our party has come, our nation has come,” said Rev. Leah Daughtry, CEO of the Democratic National Convention. “I think that the women who came before us, from the suffragette movement all the way through Fannie Lou Hamer in 1964, who wasn’t able to be seated at the Democratic party, would be very proud of the fact that we moved this far to have three African-American women in leadership. That’s fantastic!”
Bob Jones, a Clinton-pledged delegate from Maryland who served as a former staffer to then Governor Bill Clinton’s minority outreach team in Arkansas, said Brazile, Fudge and Daughtry all stand on the shoulders of Shirley Chisholm. “Hopefully the DNC will be more diverse now and hopefully it’ll trickle down, not just to women, but to other folks as well,” he said.
African-American women are becoming a more influential group. More than 70 percent of African-American women voted in 2012, outvoting most other demographics including white men and white women, according to the Huffington Post.
“African-American women, for the progressive community, is the strongest and most powerful voting block there is,” said Melanie Campbell, President and CEO of the Black Women’s Roundtable. “African-American women turned out higher than any other demographic in 2008, 2012. We lead the way.”
Not leading the way is the media coverage for the historical work of these three women, which is overlooked due to the media’s misrepresentation of African-American women. Essence magazine reported in 2013 negative imagery of Black women is often seen twice as frequently as positive imagery.
With a demographic as influential as African-American women, their coverage is crucial during a campaign season. The negative image the media gives to African-American women undermines what they want to talk about, the issues.
“We’re not focusing in on the noise,” said Campbell of the Black Women’s Roundtable, “we’re focusing on the issues and who is going to be able to get the job done and address issues impacting our community.”
Having three women in leadership of a U.S. major political convention is significant for women in general as well as for African-American women.
“I think [the appointment of three African-American women to these positions] is a great opportunity to celebrate the past work women have done in past elections,” said Deven Anderson, a worker for the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. “It’s [also] a great opportunity to engage women, not particularly white women, but African-American women, as well as women in general for this election.”
UPDATE: The Associated Press moved a story Tuesday evening pointing out the symbolism of three African American women party leaders. The headline of the article: Black Women at the helm at the Democratic National Convention.
Jon C. Dowding is a student journalist at Temple University in Philadelphia. This month he will be reporting on the Democratic National Convention from Philadelphia as part of a groundbreaking project allowing students to cover the event for local newspapers, TV stations and digital outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @