Thursday, February 2, 2017

Thomas J. Hrach's "The Riot Report and the News"

Thomas J. Hrach is associate professor of journalism at the University of Memphis.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Riot Report and the News: How the Kerner Commission Changed Media Coverage of Black America, and reported the following:
The Riot Report and the News is not a long book, only 164 pages in total. So by Page 99, more than half the story of the Kerner Commission has already been told. The commission was an 11 member body appointed in 1967 to study the causes of the riots in American cities. The commission produced a report of more than 500 pages. So on page 99 of my book that focuses on the media criticism contained in the report, a reader would find that writing the report was a bit like trying to write a term paper with more than 20 authors. Everyone had his or her own ideas about what the report should say, and that made putting together a massive 500-page report a daunting task.

But the task was well done. Any reader of the Kerner Report today would find that the document was exceptionally well written. The writers of the report had a bit of history to guide them. It was just four years earlier when the Warren Commission, the group that studied the assassination of John F. Kennedy issued its report. That report was an 888-page tome that was too long and too dense for anyone to digest. But not the Kerner Report. It reads well, which is why to this day the Kerner Report is still often quoted and cited. No one these days quotes any of the prose from the Warren Commission’s report.

On page 99, Bruce Paisner, who was hired to help write the news media part of the Kerner Report, reveals how passionate he was about it saying “at one level we felt we were doing the Lord’s work.” Perhaps that is why people are still writing books about the Kerner Commission and still quoting passages from it.
Learn more about The Riot Report and the News at the University of Massachusetts Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue