The recent spike in attacks against Asian Americans are part of a larger trend that deserves more media coverage, said “Nightline” co-anchor Juju Chang and CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang.
The broadcast journalists joined Poynter senior adviser and faculty member Joie Chen Thursday to discuss recent media coverage of violence against Asian Americans. The conversation was part of Poynter’s On Poynt series, which features interviews with journalists for the story behind the story of current events.
A number of high-profile attacks against Asian Americans in recent weeks — including the killing of an 84-year-old man — have drawn attention from national outlets, activists and celebrities alike. In the past month alone, a Filipino man was slashed in the face with a box cutter and two elderly women were punched in the head.
Many are pointing to these crimes as examples of anti-Asian racism linked to the pandemic. Celebrities including Daniel Dae Kim, Olivia Munn and Awkwafina have decried these attacks, even taking to social media to offer rewards for information about specific assaults.
Though many of the attacks that have garnered significant media coverage have taken place on the coasts — most notably the Bay Area and New York City — Chang said the problem has been much more widespread.
“I think that we’re getting at some of the roots of the otherness that Asian Americans have been subject to for decades,” Chang said. “This is something that spreads across the entire spectrum, both geographically, socioeconomically and ethnically across our country.”
Chang pointed out that for each incident recorded, there are likely many more unreported cases. Stop AAPI Hate, a project from San Francisco State University and several Asian American and Pacific Islander advocacy groups, has documented nearly 3,000 incidents since the start of the pandemic.
One factor that has likely helped drive the attacks was the anti-Asian rhetoric former President Donald Trump used in talking about the pandemic last year, according to both panelists. Jiang herself was told by Trump to “ask China” after she questioned him about his handling of the pandemic.
“Racism against Asian Americans is not new. But when the leader of the free world uses rhetoric that points that out, it almost gives people the license to say it in public and to act on it,” Jiang said. “It has been difficult to watch this recent spike and to continuously wonder, where would we be had President Trump done something different, had he done the opposite, had he condemned the rhetoric and not used it from the very beginning?”
A lot of the coverage of anti-Asian violence has been driven by Asian American journalists, which Jiang said points to the importance of having diverse perspectives in a newsroom. Those perspectives inform journalists’ reporting and don’t necessarily make them “activists,” she said.
As the country renewed its focus on issues of racism following George Floyd’s killing last summer, the media industry underwent its own racial reckoning, reexamining traditional notions of journalism and objectivity. Chang said that “soul searching” reached her own network, ABC, where reporters put together a story about their own lived experiences.
“That was seen as something that we could finally sort of share and not feel like we have to compartmentalize into another room,” Chang said. “You want to maintain your objectivity, but your objectivity and your perspective are two different things.”
For Asian American journalists, stories about the recent violence can feel personal. Jiang advised reporters to focus on their purpose and their goals for their reporting instead of trying to remove themselves completely from the story.
“The thing about the pandemic as well as this story is that we cannot remove ourselves from it because we are living through it at the same time,” Jiang said. “You have to realize it can actually help you and inform your reporting even more because you are living with this perspective and understanding of what people are going through.”
But journalists do not have to be Asian American to report on anti-Asian violence. A good reporter should be able to cover any topic, Chang said. For a feature she did on the recent spate of attacks, she worked with a team of reporters from different backgrounds — not just Asian American — who were all committed to getting the story.
Ensuring continued coverage of issues affecting Asian Americans requires a commitment to telling those stories, Jiang said. That commitment could involve building relationships with leaders in the AAPI community or trying to understand trends in local hate crimes, for example.
“The stories that get covered are the stories that you pitch that are the most thorough and thoughtful,” Jiang said. “That requires a real commitment to the community and to whatever subject that you’re trying to report on.”
One of the biggest lessons Chang said she took away from 2020 was the power of coalition building. While covering the George Floyd protests, she noticed that the participants came from a variety of backgrounds. That coalition building can also apply to journalism.
“As a journalist of color, I have always felt … that allyship is important,” Chang said. “I have stood up for other people of color and their stories because I can relate to them in that way. And I think that now is this moment of solidarity.”
A recording of the discussion will be made available here.