August 12, 2007

Newspapers helped create stereotypes

The Newspaper Indian: Native American Identity in the Press, 1820-1890 John M. Coward's The Newspaper Indian: Native American Identity in the Press, 1820-90 is a strong contribution to research engaging the complexities resulting from the nineteenth century newspaper accounts of American Indians. Through some very solid content analysis of historical American-based newspapers, this [End Page 672] book identifies just how the American press created nineteenth and twentieth century perceptions of American Indians. Coward carefully examines factual events involving American Indians and the subsequent newspaper reports or stories of these same events. The result is a lucid analysis of why perceptions of American Indians by the American public and the American press even to this day are biased, unbalanced, and unclear.

The book begins with a valuable introduction by the author that sets the tone for discovery in later chapters. Here he addresses Horace Greely in 1859, as the then-noted editor of the New York Tribune newspaper decides to go West. Greely, who had spent most of his life in the East and had never been West, delivered a strong perspective on American Indian people that was heavily influenced by a strong belief in the Bible and in American Christianity. Greely's perspective was that American Indians were uncivilized, had no work ethic, and were examples of the "lowest and rudest ages of human existence." He also believed that the more Christian American Indians became, the more civilized America would become. The significance of this perspective is that a very large mass audience in the East was anxiously waiting for Greely to write of his traveling experiences and first contact with American Indians as he headed West on this, his first excursion.

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