Political science professor reveals bias in media coverage of American Indian gaming issues

Since the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed in 1988, it has become clear the media’s representation of American Indians, specifically in New York, is biased — At least according to one SIUE professor’s research.

Political science professor Anne Flaherty. Photo courtesy of Flaherty.

Political science professor Anne Flaherty’s paper, “American Indian Land Rights, Rich Indian Racism and Newspaper Coverage in New York State 1988-2008,” indicates such bias. The paper will be published in the American Indian Culture and Research Journal in its third volume of 2013.

Flaherty said her research proves there is “definitely prevalence” of bias and racism in media coverage of American Indian issues in the context of gaming.

“In the big scheme of things, I think [my research] clarifies this proposition, this theory in native studies and it also talks about the fact that there’s a lot of sources being cited themselves,” Flaherty said.

Because journalists choose what quotes to use from their interviews, Flaherty said, whether consciously or unconsciously “journalists are often citing natives using this negative language against other tribes.”

“I think it’s a real lesson for native leaders and representatives that in some ways their words are being used against them to discredit the idea of native rights at all,” Flaherty said.

Though Flaherty investigated land rights and taxation issues in her earlier research, she said she focused on gaming because “pretty much every context of American Indian tribal rights claims is being interpreted in the media to gaming.”

“It’s really changed the way Americans and politicians perceive native politics,” Flaherty said.

Flaherty selected the 30-year period of 1988 – 2008, in part, because of the gaming law being passed in 1988. She focused on New York because the city has a “very present context” to investigate.

“There’s a lot of conflict over land rights [and] taxation issues between the tribe and the state so there’s a lot of not historical context, [but] present context, too,” Flaherty said. “There is certainly historical context, but it’s very current and political.”

Flaherty gathered evidence from more than 1,000 news articles and had an Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) student, junior political science major Erin Greenwalt, assist her last semester.

Greenwalt said she is excited about Flaherty’s research being published and also proud of Flaherty.

“I think it’s a very strong article,” Greenwalt said, “and it has a lot of depth into it that I think once politicians and people in the land claims circuit see it they’re going to really recognize what’s going on and see the ground zero of where their arguments are coming from. I think it’s brilliant.”

Greenwalt, who transferred to SIUE from Bowling Green State University, said she wanted to get to know faculty and thought the URCA program was a good way to get research experience.

“At my last school, there was a big emphasis in interdisciplinary studies of Native Americans, and I got really into,” Greenwalt said. “I thought this [research opportunity with Dr. Flaherty] would be perfect.”

Part of Greenwalt’s work consisted of coding land claim issues around New York City and finding references to different states where reservations are located, such as Oklahoma and Washington.

Greenwalt said working with Flaherty made her a lot stronger at finding academic information.

“I also believe that I really got a good understanding of what the department was about because I was not only accessible to Dr. Flaherty, but I also got to know Dr. DeGarmo and other [political science] professors…,” Greenwalt said. “There’s a very good connection that I made. It was like LinkedIn almost, but with URCA.”

Flaherty began gathering data for her research in 2010 during her first summer at SIUE.

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