Councilman Scott Benson

On Monday, Fox 2 News will air a story seeking to make an issue of the number of Detroit City Council employees that do not live within the city of Detroit. While Fox 2 News retains the right to pursue stories that they feel are in the public interest, it is questionable and concerning that they have a pattern of aggressively seeking to shame and embarrass elected officials, who overwhelmingly are black, with flimsy stories that seek to sensationalize trivial or even non-issues.

For the sake of full disclosure, I am being included in the Fox 2 piece. According to the reporter, it is apparently newsworthy that 1 out of my 8 employees is not currently a Detroit resident. That particular employee was a long-time resident of Detroit until he and his family were the victims of a violent crime and moved outside of the city limits for their own safety. I also have a part-time consultant on a six-month contract who does not reside in Detroit. Prior to his untimely death, our beloved Bruce Feaster, may God bless his soul, was a part-time employee who lived in Harper Woods. However, all of my staff members, past and present, work tirelessly every day for the city.

I am proud of my team and even prouder of my well-established track record of working to bring thousands of jobs to Detroiters –more than the 1 or 2 positions Fox 2 chooses to highlight.  Last week, I joined the Mayor to break ground on the new $95 million Flex-N-Gate facility, which will bring over 600 jobs to my district, about 400 of which will be online by the summer of 2018.  In 2015, my involvement in the community engagement process with Linc Logistics brought 200 jobs to the 3rd District, with 80% of those jobs going to Detroiters.

These are the stories that need to be told.

I personally support residency for City employees, but people choose where they live for a variety of reasons, including: a spouses work situation, children,  and health. My office follows all hiring requirements and there is no ordinance that allows the City to impose a residency requirement upon its employees.

Most reporters are aware that the state removed Detroit’s ability to require residency back in 1999.  If the true intent of the story is to highlight residency concerns, then why only focus on the relatively small staffs of nine Council members versus, the 52% of City employees who no longer reside in Detroit, and the negative fiscal implications on the general fund.  This issue is common knowledge across Detroit and a concern of City Council.

As a body, Detroit City Council has been working to resolve this issue by authorizing and supporting a number of solutions, like Detroit Land Bank policies that incentivize Detroit employees to purchase homes and land, at a discount, within the City of Detroit.  In addition, City Council is implementing policies and passing balanced budgets that make all of Detroit a job-friendly, safe city where people want to invest, live and grow their families.

Yet, the hard work done by our elected officials to improve our quality of life is routinely undermined by our local media’s anti-Detroit bias, which has been well documented for generations.  Television newsrooms are nearly 80 percent white, according to the Radio and Television News Directors Association.  In Detroit this situation creates a fertile breeding ground for biased coverage that seeks to undermine, eliminate credibility and criminalize blacks from Hasse Street to the Erma J. Henderson Auditorium in both subtle and blatant ways.  In an effort to combat this negative Detroit bias, we have to stand up and hold our local media outlets accountable to provide fair and balanced reporting.  We do not need reporting based on racist ideology or biased preconceptions, which seek to control black behavior and over-penalize and sensationalize commonplace occurrences.

The propensity for these newsrooms to manufacture smoke so they can chase the overwhelmingly black City Council staff and other elected officials does not move Detroit forward but only seeks to perpetuate dangerous stereotypes and relive a past that Detroiters are moving away from.

The acclaimed journalist Walter Lippmann wrote that societal feelings, beliefs, opinions and actions are responses to the “pictures in our heads” not to the world itself. Media outlets, like Fox 2, now provide most of the pictures that shape our reality, giving news outlets a serious responsibility for shaping public discourse and the context for the creation of policy.  This should create a situation where Fox 2 thinks long and hard about the “pictures” they project into the world.  Unfortunately, the picture Fox 2 prefers, includes confronting black elected officials unannounced at their doorstep, adding an element of “gotcha and unpreparedness,” which conveys an appearance of guilt when the subjects were simply caught off guard.  A prime example is when I respectfully declined an on-air interview and offered to answer any questions via email, the reporter showed up, unannounced in my front yard, confronting me and intimidating my wife at 8:15am on Good Friday.

Detroiters have to let the journalists covering our city know that we will no longer support the disproportionate focus on negative stories that target black elected officials. Detroiters want the “pictures in our heads” to be a fair and balanced representation of who we are and our historical contributions to this city.  We should also question how often Fox 2 airs similar stories using similar tactics about white politicians.

Fifty three years ago, Malcolm X said, “If you aren’t careful the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”  Speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem (13 December 1964)

We will not stand by for continued media injustice. I invite the Fox 2 news management and other media representatives to an open meeting to have an important dialogue about issues of bias in local coverage.  We hope the local media community will accept this invitation.

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