On Wednesday night, as chilling video of the death of Philando Castile – shot by a Minnesota cop – went viral, the cable news channels were mostly silent. Roland Martin, host and managing editor of TV One’s “News One Now,” wasn’t surprised.
“These networks are tremendous battleships,” he told IndieWire. “And so they still are waiting for someone else to affirm something before they decide to jump in and really begin to cover it.” Media outlets, he said, “looked silly focusing on a speech Donald Trump had made or emails from Hillary Clinton when things were blowing up.”
The networks now find themselves catching up to social media, where footage of Castile (via his girlfriend’s Facebook Live feed), the police shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Thursday night’s killing of five officers in Dallas was all immediate and unfiltered.
“Social media has changed the game, because social media doesn’t have to wait for CNN, MSNBC or Fox News to say, ‘Oh, this is news, and therefore it is important.’ Social media said, ‘We don’t care about the stuff you guys are covering, we care about this.’ I think that’s the reality of the situation. National media is the last to figure it out.”
But instead of seeing social media as the competition, Martin said it makes his job easier. “We don’t have the resources to be everywhere,” he said of TV One. “Social media allows us to expand our footprint and access more information. We are not beholden just in terms of what is being fed to us by someone else. Everyone has to be careful in how you vet information, but it still allows us to expand on what we do.”
Meanwhile, even when the mainstream media does dive into issues of police brutality or guns, Martin, who spent six years at CNN, said those discussions mostly lack context.
“Media, especially cable news, does not like nuance,” he said. “It does not want to deal with nuance. It does not want to truly examine how you can be for Black Lives Matter while at the same time abhors violence against police. As I watched [coverage], that’s what’s driving me crazy. You have these one-dimensional conversations. Look at these things in a different way. Cable news wants to go for the quick hit, rock ’em/sock ’em battle as opposed to significant and intense debate.”
Part of the problem is that some outlets still practice false equivalency, even when sometimes there are enough facts to definitively say what’s right and what’s wrong. “What that actually stems from is fear,” Martin said. “[Anchors] don’t have the courage to tell somebody, ‘That has nothing to do with this.’ [They’re afraid] to come across as being rude or shutting somebody down. I see it all the time.”