MSNBC News Co-Host Shines Light on Media’s Role in Civil Rights

Kristi Barrus and Toure

Kristi Barrus, director of events at the School of Arts and Humanities, stayed after the Q-and-A to get a photo taken with Touré.

MSNBC co-host Touré led discussions on how the media has shaped civil rights in the United States during a recent visit to UT Dallas.

The program, “The Media’s Role in Civil Rights,” at the Alexander Clark Center featured video and commentary on civil rights struggles, including the Arab Spring in the Middle East and movements for African-Americans, women, Mexican-Americans, American Indians and the LGBT community.

Touré, co-host of the news show The Cycle, also met with a smaller group for a casual question-and-answer session before the event. About 200 people attended the program, which was presented by the University’s Office of Diversity and Community Engagement, the Student Union and Activities Advisory Board, Meteor Theater, the School of Arts and Humanities and the Multicultural Center.

As he introduced the video, Touré talked about how television helped advance civil rights by showing powerful images to the world, such as German shepherds and fire hoses being turned on nonviolent protesters 50 years ago in Selma, Alabama.

“Television made the civil rights movement visceral in a way no other media could,” Touré said. “Television, when used properly, shines a light and brings those stories nationwide and internationally and has a chance to make a difference.”

Toure audience

Kings Boachie-Mensah, an information technology and services major, was one of about 200 people who attended the program on the medias role in civil rights.

Popular sitcoms in the 1980s and 1990s, such as The Cosby Show and Will & Grace, also have played important roles in civil rights struggles through their portrayals of African-American and gay characters, he said.

“Just breaking those bonds of thinking that somebody else is ‘other,’ and seeing the shared humanity is so critical,” Touré said.

After the video, Touré took audience members’ questions, including one about differences in coverage of the civil rights movement and more recent protests over the police shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri. He discussed challenges journalists had getting access to the scene in Ferguson, in addition to changes in the media since the 1960s.

“One thing we see now is there are more black and brown faces in the news media,” he said. “News was almost entirely covered and produced and executed by white men.”

When asked about his path to becoming a co-host of a program on MSNBC, Touré talked about how he made occasional TV appearances while writing about music for Rolling Stone magazine. The TV spots became more frequent, leading to a job at the cable news station.

One of the questions focused on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana, which initially was criticized for allowing discrimination against the LGBT community. The law has since been revised to remove those discrimination fears.

Touré said the debate over the law raised questions about what is covered by civil rights. He defined civil rights as those pertaining to our demography, or things we cannot change such as race or sexual orientation.

“The question is can we include religion within that? We are good in this country about protecting your rights to worship as you wish but does that extend to the business sector?” Touré asked. “Does that include you being able to say ‘I don’t want to be part of your gay wedding?’ To my ears, it sounds like you’re being asked to be tolerant of intolerance.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]

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