Mark Thompson is Missing from the Airwaves and Why That Matters

Photo: Twitter

Mark Thompson, the host of “Make It Plain” on SiriusXM radio, has been off the airwaves for a few weeks now, and his absence is being felt at a time when he is needed most, as Washington melts down. In addition to his program, Thompson — also known as Matsimela Mapfumo — is an ordained minister and a political activist, a reparations advocate, the emcee of the Million Man March, and so many other things. And he is a crucial progressive black voice — a prophetic voice — in a media landscape where such individuals are a rarity.

Thompson’s conspicuous hiatus from the airwaves came amid his support for reparations — he is a member of the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC) — and his criticism of the #ADOS (American Descendants of Slaves) hashtag movement — which claims to support reparations for Black people has ties to a white nationalist, anti-immigrant, pro-Trump hate group, the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Mark also opposed a now defunct program on SiriusXM hosted by white supremacist and former Trump White House advisor Steve Bannon. During an appearance on MSNBC, Thompson had expressed his criticism of #ADOS -which attacks progressives to the benefit of Republicans, and which white supremacists are using to sow division in the Black community — resulting in #ADOS attacks on him on social media and attempts to have him fired from his show. Things came to a head when Mark had a confrontation with an apparent agent provocateur who took issue with his opposition to #ADOS, and verbally harassed and provoked him at a recent event hosted by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. However, more importantly, the two men reconciled and had a coming together with the assistance of Mayor Baraka.

Following his suspension from the SiriusXM Progress channel, Mark Thompson has received support, including a campaign under the hashtag #IStandWithMarkThompson, and an online petition to return him to the air. Further, the Congressional Black Caucus wrote a letter to SIRIUS XM CEO James Meyer blasting the multibillion-dollar media company for its lack of diversity, as the NNPA reported.

“We write to express our deep concern about the lack of African American representation in the C-suite and on the board of Directors at SIRIUS XM Radio. In February 2019, Sirius XM announced the finalization of its acquisition of Pandora Media for $3.5 billion, forming the world’s largest audio entertainment company,” said the letter from CBC Chairwoman Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC). “We believe a media company of this size and reach should be much further along in ensuring diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership and agree that Sirius XM has a great deal of work to do,” the letter pointed out. The lawmakers added that they find the lack of diversity at SiriusXM “problematic” in light of 52 percent of Black consumers and 45 percent of Latino consumers driving consumption on streaming services.

SiriusXM is by no means alone. Over 50 years have passed since the Kerner Commission report following the urban rebellions of the late 1960s, which sounded the alarm on the failure of the white news media to report on America’s racial problems and other issues. “Our second and fundamental criticism is that the news media have failed to analyze and report adequately on racial problems in the United States and, as a related matter, to meet the Negro’s legitimate expectations in journalism. By and large, news organizations have failed to communicate to both their black and white audiences a sense of the problems America faces and the sources of potential solutions,” the report said.

“The media report and write from the standpoint of a white man’s world. The ills of the ghetto, the difficulties of life there, the Negro’s burning sense of grievance, are seldom conveyed. Slights and indignities are part of the Negro’s daily life, and many of them come from what he now calls ‘the white press’ — a press that repeatedly, if unconsciously, reflects the biases, the paternalism, the indifference of white America. This may be understandable, but it is not excusable in an institution that has the mission to inform and educate the whole of our society.”

The consequences of a homogeneous media that do not reflect the viewpoints of Black and Brown people, poor and working people, emerging social movements, marginalized and disenfranchised communities are clear. As Malcolm X once said: “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

“The controlled press inflames the white public against Negroes,” Malcolm noted. “The police are able to use it to paint the Negro community as a criminal element. The police are able to use the press to make the white public think that 90 per cent or 99 per cent of the Negroes in the Negro community are criminals,” he added. “Once the police have convinced the white public that the so-called Negro community is a criminal element, they can go in and question, brutalize, murder unarmed, innocent Negroes and the white public is gullible enough to back them up. This makes the Negro community a police state.”

Even today, America’s newsrooms are predominantly white and male, not even reflecting the demographics of the general population, and certainly not meeting the needs and expectations of the public. In recent years, the already low number of Black and Latino journalists in mainstream media has fallen — with many journalism school graduates of color not landing jobs — sowing racial bias among news organizations. According to Pew Research, 77 percent of newsroom employees are white. At a time of media consolidation, where deregulation has placed more and more media in the hands of fewer companies, diverse media ownership will allow society to better deal with its problems of racial and economic injustice and allow those facing institutional racism and discrimination to empower themselves. Only 2.6 percent of television stations and 5 percent of radio stations are owned by broadcasters of color, in a nation that is 40 percent nonwhite.

The glaring racial disparities in the media could not come at a more inconvenient time, in which Donald Trump will usher in a fascist state if given half the chance. Trump is dismantling the administrative state with all deliberate speed, trampling on the rights of racial and religious minority groups and creating its own reality, its own truth through the manipulation of propaganda, distortions and outright lies. Today, more than ever, we need powerful, unadulterated and unfiltered voices such as Mark Thompson, who speak truth to power and hold the powerful accountable.

(Originally published in Black Commentator.)