NBC and ABC Feature Same Teenage Activist Supporting Affirmative Action; Omit Activist Label

Reporting on Tuesday's Supreme Court decision that enabled states' voters to ban affirmative action, the NBC and ABC evening newscasts featured a soundbite from the same teenage activist who called the ruling "disgusting" and charged it is "creating a new Jim Crow."

Both networks simply labeled Markeith Jones a high school student without disclosing he is an activist who recently marched protesting Michigan's ban on affirmative action. ABC quoted Jones and other supporters of affirmative action four times in its report while giving opponents just two soundbites.

NBC's Pete Williams highlighted how, "in Detroit, high school sophomore Markeith Jones says today's decision is a setback." Jones alleged: "It complicates things more than they are already. It's creating a new era of racism. It's creating a new Jim Crow."

World News anchor Diane Sawyer framed the decision around liberal Justice Sotomayor's dissent, although she was only one of two justices dissenting:

"In a big decision today, the Supreme Court allowed the state of Michigan to ban affirmative action at colleges. But one justice was so passionate in opposition, passionate about discrimination, even in 2014, she did something she has never done before."

And both CBS and ABC reported black enrollment falling at state colleges after affirmative action bans were passed. CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley noted that "our research department found that since Michigan banned affirmative action, black enrollment at the University of Michigan is down about 30 percent."

Pelley could also have quoted numbers showing that black enrollment at Michigan State University was already falling years before the ban went into effect. As Bloomberg reported, "Blacks represented 10.5 percent of the entering class in 1999, 8.8 percent in 2006 and 6.2 percent in 2012." 2006 was when the affirmative action ban was passed.

Below are transcripts of the April 22 stories:

ABC's World News:

DIANE SAWYER: And now tonight, a milestone in the debate about race and fairness in America. In a big decision today, the Supreme Court allowed the state of Michigan to ban affirmative action at colleges. But one justice was so passionate in opposition, passionate about discrimination, even in 2014, she did something she has never done before. ABC's Ryan Smith tells us.

(Video Clip)

RYAN SMITH: Closely watching the Supreme Court today, Markeith Jones, a high school junior from Detroit, hoping to attend the University of Michigan next year.

MARKEITH JONES: I think it's disgusting. I'm infuriated, actually, and it doesn't make any sense.

SMITH: It is a major blow for supporters of affirmative action. The Court ruling today in a 6-2 decision that it's okay for Michigan voters to decide that race should not be a factor in its public university admissions.

BILL SCHUETTE, Michigan attorney general: Today's decision by the United States Supreme Court is a victory for the Constitution, a victory for the voters of Michigan, and victory for the rule of the law.

SMITH: Justice Anthony Kennedy, speaking for the Court, wrote quote, "this case is not about how the debate about how racial preference should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it." But in a blistering dissent, Justice Sonya Sotomayor, a Princeton graduate and the Court's first Latina justice who's called herself a product of Affirmative Action, took the unusual step of reading her opinion from the bench, saying quote, "Race matters. Race matters in part because of a long history of racial minorities being denied access to the political process."

The numbers show in states that have banned race-based admissions, minority student enrollment has dropped sharply. In Michigan state, when affirmative action was still in place, 10 percent of new students were African-American. After the ban, 5 percent. Five other states have similar laws already in place.

SMITH: Do you think other states will follow Michigan's lead?

STEVE SHAPIRO, ACLU: I think this opens the door. I'm not sure how many states are going to walk through that door, quite honestly.

SMITH: For students like Markeith, there's no giving up.

JONES: This is my dream school. If I don't get accepted my first try, then I appeal. And if I don't get in then, then I'm just going to fight to get in.

SMITH: Ryan Smith, ABC News, New York.

CBS Evening News:

SCOTT PELLEY: Good evening. The Supreme Court ruled today that voters may ban racial preferences in deciding who gets into a state college and who doesn't. Affirmative action, as it is known, is still constitutional, but this decision gives voters in each state the final say in whether to allow it. It wasn't close, 6-2. The 6 being justices Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Breyer. Ginsberg and Sotomayor dissented. Justice Kagan had worked on the case before she joined the court. She didn't vote today. Here's chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford.

(Video Clip)

JAN CRAWFORD: For a generation, the battle over affirmative action has been fought here at the Supreme Court. But today the justices said voters, not judges, could decide the ultimate fate of racial preferences. Upholding Michigan's ban on affirmative action, Justice Anthony Kennedy writing the main opinion, said the case is "not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it." Affirmative action while permissible, is not required and "it is demeaning to the democratic process," Kennedy wrote, "to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding whether it should continue."

Michigan voters approved the affirmative action ban in 2006 after the Supreme Court refused to outlaw an admissions program at the University of Michigan law school. Bill Schuette is Michigan's attorney general.

BILL SCHUETTE, Michigan attorney general: Today's decision by the United States Supreme Court is a victory for the citizens of Michigan, who overwhelmingly voted in 2006 to require equal treatment in admission to our outstanding colleges and universities.

CRAWFORD: Voters in five other states have approved similar bans. And critics like Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fnd, say today's decision is likely to encourage efforts in other states.

SHERRILYN IFILL, president, NAACP Legal Defense Fund: My hope is that voters will be awake and will recognize what is happening. To the extent the Supreme Court has thrown it into their court, we're responsible for maintaining this democracy.

CRAWFORD: The ruling produced an impassioned 58-page dissent from Justice Sonya Sotomayor. The Court's first Hispanic justice, she has talked about how she benefitted from affirmative action. She said the Court's decision ignores the stark reality that race matters. "As members of the judiciary, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront the racial inequality that exists in our society." Now Justice Sotomayor took the unusual step of reading aloud parts of her opinion from the bench, and at times her dissent really sounded almost personal. She described examples of young people experiencing racial discrimination which she says, Scott, reinforces this feeling they have that I do not belong.

PELLEY: Jan Crawford, on the steps of the Supreme Court for us tonight. Jan, thank you very much. Our research department found that since Michigan banned affirmative action, black enrollment at the University of Michigan is down about 30 percent. In California, with a similar ban since 1996, black enrollment at UCLA has fallen from nearly 6 percent to just under 4. At UC Berkeley, it is down from about 5 percent to just over 3.

NBC Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Good evening. Affirmative action, using race as a factor in college admissions, suffered a blow today when the Supreme Court in a lopsided but deeply divided vote said in effect, no matter what it may have done in the past, no matter what it may accomplish, voters in individual states have the right to end it, like in Michigan where voters recently did just that. Today the Court said that should be the last word. It's where we begin tonight with our justice correspondent, Pete Williams, at the Court. Pete, good evening.

PETE WILLIAMS: Brian, good evening. The justices went out of their way to say they were not ruling on the constitutionality of affirmative action itself, but this decision is new ammunition for those who do want to stop it.

(Video Clip)

P. WILLIAMS: (voice over) It's a big victory for the state of Michigan, which had affirmative action in school admissions until 2006 when 58 percent of state voters passed Proposal 2, amending their constitution to ban it.

NARRATOR: We all know that affirmative action has become corrupt and unfair.

P. WILLIAMS: Civil rights groups sued, saying the ban amounted to discrimination, making it harder for minority students to push for favorable admission policies. Today voting 6-2, the Court upheld the right of Michigan voters to pass the ban. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that "while the debate on the issue may be emotional, it should not be beyond the reach of voters." Michigan's attorney general said the ruling favors political fairness.

BILL SCHUETTE, Michigan attorney general: It is a victory for the citizens of Michigan, who overwhelmingly voted in 2006 to require equal treatment in admission to our outstanding colleges and universities.

P. WILLIAMS: But in a passionate dissent, Justice Sonya Sotomayor, who often says affirmative action changed her life, said the amendment rigged the political system against minorities. "While the constitution does not guarantee minority groups victory in the political process," she said, "it does guarantee them meaningful and equal access to that process." Civil rights groups fear today's ruling may encourage other states to try bans of their own.

SHERRILYN IFILL, NAACP: What's going to happen is what happened in Michigan, and that is a campaign of disinformation and of fear about affirmative action, a campaign that suggests minority students are taking the place of others.

P. WILLIAMS: In Detroit, high school sophomore Markeith Jones says today's decision is a setback.

MARKEITH JONES: It complicates things more than they are already. It's creating a new era of racism. It's creating a new Jim Crow.

(End Video Clip)

P. WILLIAMS: So counting Ohio, eight states have now banned affirmative action, starting with California 20 years ago. And one other note, Justice Elena Kagan sat this one out, having worked on this issue when she was at the Justice Department. Brian?

B. WILLIAMS: Alright, Pete Williams at the Supreme Court building tonight.  

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014