Two governors, two blackface scandals, two VERY different responses by the media. Why is that?
The two governors, of course, are Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R). Although, actually, the phrase “of course” might not be appropriate, because based on a Google Trends analysis of the two scandals’ media coverage, it looks like Ivey’s blackface scandal (story broke on August 29) got just a small fraction of Northam’s (story broke on February 1) – so you might not have even *heard* of the Ivey scandal. Check out the Google Trends graph, below.
- Interest in (and media coverage of) the Ralph Northam blackface scandal spiked very rapidly, and stayed relatively high for nearly three weeks, in February 2019.
- In stark contrast, interest in (and media coverage of) the Kay Ivey blackface scandal barely showed a blip, then promptly fell close to zero.
- Relatively speaking, the Northam scandal received many multiples of the interest that the Ivey scandal has received, with Northam’s story peaking at 100 on February 10, while Ivey’s “peaked” at just 5 (one twentieth of the interest in Northam’s scandal at their respective peaks) on August 13.
Why might there be such a big difference in interest levels in these two stories? Could it be, as CNU Professor Rachel Bitecofer tweeted, that a story like this is “only news worthy [sic] when its [sic] a Democrat because I am just now finding out about this?” Here are some similarities and differences between the two stories:
- In Northam’s case, there was a photo in his 1984 med school yearbook, while in Ivey’s case, “a recording surfaced of her discussing [wearing blackface during a skit at Auburn University more than 50 years ago] with her then-fiancé and later first husband, Ben LaRavia, Ivey admitted it must be true.” So, there definitely were differences in how long ago these incidents occurred – 35 years in Northam’s case, 50 years in Ivey’s case – and perhaps more importantly, there were PHOTOS in Northam’s case, no photos (at least to date) in Ivey’s case. And the media definitely loves images, so that could explain some of the difference in coverage/interest in the two stories.
- Also note that in Northam’s case, the photo had both a person in blackface AND a person in a KKK costume. In Ivey’s case, it sounds like there was blackface only. Although, of course, in Northam’s case, we don’t know which of the two people in the photo was Northam (and there’s actually still doubt about whether either is Northam).
- Northam, of course, is the Democratic governor of Virginia, which has changed a great deal politically – in the Democratic direction – over the past couple decades. Ivey is the Republican governor of Alabama, which is still deep-red Republican for the most part.
- Northam held a disastrous press conference, at which he came close to demonstrating his “moon walking” skills, while Ivey – as ThinkProgress notes – “has opted for a written statement instead” of appearing before reporters.
- Ivey’s blackface story trickled out, with a report about Ivey’s sorority coming out on February 11, but the admission by Ivey to being involved not coming until just this past week. In contrast, Northam’s story exploded in just a few days, with Northam at first admitting he was in the yearbook photo, then claiming he was *not* in the photo.
- In Northam’s case, almost every top (and medium, low, etc.) Democratic politician in the state and also nationally, plus the NAACP and many others, called on Northam to resign. In Ivey’s case, the Alabama NAACP has called on her to resign, but almost nobody else has done so (note: it goes without saying that Republicans haven’t called on Ivey to resign, because…yep, they’re Republicans), with “Alabama’s only black member of Congress, Democratic Representative Terri Sewell, [saying] Ivey’s ‘actions were reprehensible and are deeply offensive'” and with “Alabama’s Senate Minority Leader, Democrat Bobby Singleton, who is black, tells the Associated Press he appreciates Ivey ‘owning the incident.'”
In sum, there are definitely similarities between the Northam and Ivey blackface scandals, but also many differences. How much of the difference in public and media interest in these two stories – MUCH more for Northam than for Ivey – is attributable to the fact that Northam’s a Democrat and Ivey’s a Republican is hard to say. But, of course, there’s that old acronym “IOKIYAR” (“It’s ok if you’re a Republican”), and the constant corporate media bias against Democrats, liberals, progressives, etc., so it’s possible that Professor Bitecofer’s read on this is accurate, at least to a point. What do you think?