×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Variety’s Small Focus on Riots Coverage in 1967

When the Detroit uprising of 1967 erupted, Variety covered it from only a showbiz angle. A brief story in our July 26 weekly edition read: “Negro riots here have closed film and legitimate theaters, nightclubs in Detroit and bordering cities of Highland Park and Hamtramck. Curfew runs from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. Liquor sales are temporarily illegal. Governor George Romney has called for 5,000 Federal troops. These have been granted by President Johnson after 7,000 National Guardsmen were used Sunday night in vain effort to control situation.” That was the entire piece.

A month later, on Aug. 23, Variety wrote a follow-up story, saying “showbiz has rebounded in great shape” after two weeks of curfews.

In its cursory coverage of the race riots, Variety failed to mention the horrific events that unfolded at the nearby Algiers Motel, where three black men were killed and nine others were brutally beaten. The incident is at the center of Kathryn Bigelow’s new movie “Detroit.” In 1968, Variety wrote a piece speculating about a movie version of John Hersey’s nonfiction book “The Algiers Motel Incident,” which came out that year. However, a film adaptation was never made.

Some politicians clung to the belief that the media was at fault. Ten months after the Detroit events, Variety reported that broadcast news coverage had been examined by a House investigations subcommittee, as well as investigators from the House Committee on Un-American Activities and at least one judiciary committee; all were probing the three networks “because of a suspicion that unfairness [in coverage] might be revealed.” The networks were given a clean bill of health.

As part of Variety’s Jan. 3, 1968, recap of the riots, FCC Commissioner Nicholas Johnson wrote a guest column arguing that the demonstrations were not incomprehensible, as many politicians in D.C. had suggested. Johnson wrote that the uprising was not senseless, random violence, stressing that a riot is “a form of communication. A riot is somebody talking … someone saying ‘You’re not listening to me.’ ”

“A riot is somebody talking … somebody saying ‘You’re not listening to me.’”
FCC’s Nicholas Johnson, In Variety

The commissioner’s column was a rebuttal to D.C. accusations; Johnson concluded that media coverage had been fair and balanced — but inadequate.

A riot, he wrote, is an attempt to be heard, but the media had not been listening. Citing Detroit, Johnson said members of the mainstream media “had known virtually nothing of the extremes of poverty, suffering and — as it turned out — outrage festering in the ghettos of our cities.”

In the 1950s and early ’60s, journalists had done an excellent job in exposing Southern bigotry during the civil rights struggles, he wrote. However, they backed off when consciousness was raised in other parts of the country. “Suddenly the challenge was close to home,” he wrote, and national media “may have lost a bit of its appetite for getting to the truth beneath the surface of things.”

The five-day battle in Detroit left 43 people dead and 1,189 injured and led to more than 7,200 arrests. It was always described as a riot in those days, though modern analysts have said that word implies “unprovoked mayhem”; many prefer terms like civil disturbance, public disorder, protest, uprising or rebellion.

A key to the eventual glimmer of understanding of what led to the incident came on July 28, 1967, a day after Detroit quieted down, when President Lyndon Johnson established the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders — aka the Kerner Commission after its chairman, Otto Kerner. The goal was to find out what happened and why, and how it could have been prevented.

In 1968, the committee published its findings. The report cited reasons for unrest in the ghettos: housing, transportation, education, medical facilities and job opportunities.

But the media wasn’t blameless. The report echoed the ideas of FCC Commissioner Johnson’s column in Variety, saying that the media had not done enough investigative work into a world filled with people who had no voice: “The press has too long basked in a white world … and that is no longer good enough.”

And the question, 50 years later: Has it gotten better?

More Biz

  • Harvey Weinstein arrives at New York

    Judge Refuses to Pause Weinstein Class Action Case

    A judge on Tuesday denied Harvey Weinstein’s request to put a class action lawsuit on hold pending the outcome of his criminal trial. Ten women have sued Weinstein in federal court in the Southern District of New York, accusing him of violating the federal sex trafficking statute. The suit also alleges that an array of [...]

  • Andrea Ganis Promoted to President of

    Atlantic Records Elevates Andrea Ganis to President of Promotion

    Andrea Ganis has been promoted to the newly created position of president of promotion for Atlantic Records, it was announced today by Atlantic Chairman & COO Julie Greenwald and Chairman & CEO Craig Kallman. In her new role, she will continue to oversee all promotion activities for Atlantic and its subsidiary labels while serving on [...]

  • Roma

    Netflix Joins the Motion Picture Association of America

    UPDATED WASHINGTON — Netflix has joined the Motion Picture Association of America, a move that reflects its evolution as a major player in the movie business. The MPAA currently has six major studios as members, and it collected about $38 million in membership dues in 2017, according to its most recent filing with the IRS. [...]

  • Fate of 'Simpsons' Up in Air

    What Will Happen to 'The Simpsons’ as Disney Takes Over Fox?

    When “The Simpsons” ends its 30th and current season this spring, it will have racked up 663 original episodes — having a season ago passed “Gunsmoke” (635) as the longest-running scripted program in television history. But with the Walt Disney Co.’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox pending, one of TV’s least likely institutions could prove more [...]

  • Best Worst Performances Pink

    Pink, Muse, Chris Stapleton to Headline Citi Sound Vault During Grammy Week

    Pink, Muse and Chris Stapleton will headline Citi Sound Vault, the three-night live-music platform taking place at the Hollywood Palladium during Grammy week. Pink will kick off the Live Nation-produced series on Feb. 7, followed by Muse on Feb. 9 and Stapleton on Grammy night, the 10th. “This will be my first time performing at the [...]

  • China’s Maoyan Tweaks Terms for $350

    China’s Maoyan Tweaks Terms of $350 Million IPO

    Maoyan Entertainment, the Chinese ticketing giant, has updated the terms of its share offer in order to keep its IPO on course. It aims to raise up to $350 million of new cash by floating on the Hong Kong stock market. In a new draft prospectus published Tuesday, the company revealed that it had brought [...]

  • 76th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS --

    Tyler Perry: 6 Lessons He Shared at NATPE's 'Living the Dream' Summit

    MIAMI — Tyler Perry took time out of his “Madea’s Farewell” live stage tour and spent his Martin Luther King Jr. holiday giving an inspiring speech to aspiring producers and students gathered here for the annual NATPE convention. Perry was the keynoter Monday at the conference’s first ever “Living the Dream: A Career in Content” session [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content