The 2002-2003 Essay Contest Winners:
1st and 2nd Place

High School Division

First Place

Omayra Santana
Grade 12
Hartford Public High School
Hartford, Connecticut

Prejudice in Our Media

In an ideal world, the news we would read and watch would be unprejudiced and fair in its presentation. We do not, however, live in an ideal world. While there are some instances which I feel news shared with the public has been unbiased, for the most part, independent journalism has been compromised as mainstream media has become more focused on money and politics, than the maintenance of an "informed democracy." And as mergers increase in numbers and the US media outlets become owned by capital driven companies that are supported by corporate advertisers, the availability of "true" reporting disappears.

A few good examples of how news reports have been "less than evenhanded" pertain to the attacks of 9/11/01. In an article of University Wee (UW), Steve Hill wrote that journalists covering the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and their aftermath were "unwittingly complicit to government and military communication strategies to rally public support" and UW researchers' content analysis of news coverage in the five issues of Newsweek and Time published immediately after the attacks found that the newsmagazines "minimized voices of opposition and instead focused on American unity, highlighted the importance of core American values, shifted blame away from the US, emphasized the US role as the only superpower on the international stage, and demonized the enemy." In addition, news programs such as CNN and BBC resorted to the use of shocking editorializing, as opposed to actual news. Journalism shifted toward opinion journalism, and phrases such as "I believe" and "I think" were commonly used, which isn't fair.

US news organizations "censored" their coverage of the US campaign in Afghanistan in order to be in step with public opinion in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Rena Golden, the executive vice-president and general manager of CNN International has claimed. Speaking at News World Asia, a conference for news executives in Singapore, Golden said, "Anyone who claims the US media didn't censor itself is kidding you." In addition, senior figures from Afghanistan and Pakistan have condemned Western news organizations which flooded the region with journalists, who were unfamiliar with its politics and history. The presence of so many journalists caused "serious difficulty for a government determined not to impose press restrictions on the media." If journalists are to have objectivity, they first need to understand.

Another prime example of one-sided reporting related to NATO and its ware against Yugoslavia. The most grotesque instance of this was the bombing of the Serbian television building, killing an estimated 10 civilians and injuring dozens more. Prime Minister Tony Blair described this as "entirely justified", though most would not agree, and NATO has attempted to hold back certain facts. They have also fabricated stories to gain support, such as when they stated that 20 school teachers were killed in front of their pupils, that Pristina Stadium was being used as a concentration camp, that the paramilitary leader Arkan was in Kosovo, that President Slobodan Milosevic's family had fled the country, that Kosovo Albanian leaders had been executed--all of which turned out to be false. The media has enabled them to do so.

Despite all of these examples of biased news reporting, I do believe there are some people that work towards reforming the system. FAIR, for instance, is an internet site devoted to exposing prejudice in the media, and presenting citizens with different perspectives of the news. FAIR believes that structural reform is needed to break up the dominant media conglomerates, establish independent public broadcasting, and promote strong, non-profit alternative sources of information.

If newspapers were as non-biased as Mr. or Ms. Editor usually would have us believe, we would be seeing reporting from vastly different perspectives than we do. Every reporter out there, you need to know the magnitude of your job. Your job is to keep us informed. If not, why bother? Close the media and we'll know even less of nothing.

Read the High School Honorable Mention Essays

Middle School Division

First Place

Sean McGill
Grade 8
Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School
Old Lyme, Connecticut

Charles and Rufus

Rufus (a dog) and Charles Alden III (a cat) were with their separate families, going on a trip by plane. Even though they couldn't see each other, Rufus knew that all cats were snotty, stuck up, and never did anything, just talked about it and Charles also knew that ALL dogs were stupid, slow and never thought things through before jumping in. They barked and hissed at each other throughout the flight. What they didn't (know was that at the airport they had been put on the wrong flight, and ended up stuck in animal crates in an airport baggage claim thousands of miles away from their families. For days, no one came to claim them, and the airport staff neglected them. They were left to fend for themselves.

At night when everybody had left, Rufus and Charles tried to open the locks on their crates to get out. Charles used finesse, while Rufus used brute force. Charles got out first and angrily told Rufus to be quiet, then hissed, "Stupid dog!" Rufus grumbled to himself, "Bossy, stuck up, know-it-all cat!" and started banging even harder. He finally pushed the lock open and escaped. Both animals traded insults back and forth and stomped off in opposite directions.

They were upset and surprised to find themselves meeting up again in the kitchen of an airport restaurant. Everything was closed, but one of lights had been left on. They could see the leftovers on the countertop and began to drool. They hadn't eaten in days. Rufus tried to jump up onto the counter, but couldn't get high enough. Charles kept slipping off when trying to climb up. Rufus suggested that Charles climb on his back to get to the countertop. Charles got on Rufus's back and jumped onto counter. He found some tuna salad, ate it then pushed some fruit off the counter, which hit Rufus on his snout. Rufus and Charles argued about being careful, about whose plan it was, and who could have come up with a better one. Then the sun began to rise. Both animals rushed back to their cages. Rufus had trouble closing his cage, so Charles did it for him. Charles made an excuse for helping Rufus. He would not admit that it really was a thank you for Rufus helping to get the food. The next day, Charles opened and closed the doors for both himself and Rufus without a word of disrespect, and Rufus helped the cat out without any kind of debate. This continued for the next few days.

At the end of their last day together before their families picked them up, Rufus told Charles that he now knew that cats were far less stuck up than he thought, and did act when they had to. Charles told Rufus he now knew that dogs were smart, and quick on their feet physically and mentally. Both also told each other that they were glad they were friends and that their prejudices were totally wrong.

Second Place (tie)

Allison Chan
Grade 8
Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School
Old Lyme, Connecticut

The Dorm Dilemma

As summer neared an end and school was about to start Heidi Wattson and Jackie Pearson prepared for the beginning of their freshman year of college. Both were very excited, mainly because they were sharing a dorm room together.

When the girls arrived at school they went up to their dorm to unpack their belongings. In the middle of their unpacking they heard the door creak open. Terrified they turned around--they were supposed to be the only ones in the dorm room! An African-American girl stood in the doorway. She introduced herself as Kirke Terrier. Heidi and Jackie did not want that girl in their room. They didn't want to just kick her out, though, instead they decided to hint in their actions that Kirke wasn't wanted. Their hope was that Kirke would leave on her own before they had to take it upon themselves to do something about her presence.

Three days later Heidi offered to do Kirke's laundry. Graciously, she accepted. When Heidi came back with Kirke's laundry it was all spotted with white patches. She had put bleach on Kirke's clothes. Heidi clamed that it was a mistake, but it was obvious that it had been intentional. Kirke didn't make a fuss about it, though. She pretended to disregard the incident, but inside she was hurt that Heidi had been so unkind.

As the weeks went on Jackie and Heidi continued to show no respect toward Kirke. They were always making jokes about her behind her back. Once, they even threw a party in their own dorm room and didn't invite Kirke! Now, in Kirke's mind this was an incredibly low thing to do and she was beginning to feel that things would never change between herself and Heidi and Jackie. The thing that hurt her the most, though, was the growing presence of prejudice in her life. She thought that maybe if they just got to know her they would realize that she was no different, but she doubted the girls would ever give her the chance.

Then one day, things began to turn around. Jackie and Heidi came back to the dorm in tears. Kirke, being a generous person, asked what was wrong. It turned out that the two had gone to Glee Club auditions but had been told by a group of African-American girls that their white voices would be no match for the purity of theirs and that they should just go home to save themselves the embarrassment of auditioning. They had been especially disappointed that the girls hadn't even given them a chance to sing. Then, suddenly, as Kirke was consoling them, they both realized that they had been treating Kirke just as badly has the Glee Club girls had treated them. Heidi and Jackie felt so bad; they immediately apologized to Kirke for the way they had acted. A new friendship was then made.

Second Place (tie)

Aaron Ross Kiersh
Grade 7
Bedford Middle School
Westport, Connecticut

My Uncle Max

Once I heard my mother yelling, "Aaron, get ready to go, we'll be late," I knew what was next. "We've got to go," she continued. "It'll be fun going to New Jersey. We don't want to be late to see Uncle Max." I love sitting in the back of the car with Eminem on my CD player, and having a McDonald's McFlurry on the highway. That was fun. But seeing Uncle Max? That is a whole other story--a true story, and not just a character for a TV plot about prejudice -- for Max is real, a Jew, a member of a persecuted minority who is unfortunately representative of many Americans today.

You've heard of "Everybody Loves Raymond," the popular TV show. Max is different. Everybody hates him. He yells at his neighbors' kids. He never gives to any charity. My uncle has always hated blacks, Palestinians, Arabs, Pakistanis, you name it. In fact, he is such a bigot, he hates everybody. Whenever we go to his house, it is always the same. He'd be sitting in front of the TV and when some newscaster reported there was another bombing in Israel, that immediately lit Max's fuse. Whew! The blasts would start flying. "The Arabs, bomb them, go after them on Atlantic Avenue (a Brooklyn street that has a large population of Middle Eastern peoples). There aren't any Jewish suicide bombers. They should send the West Bank and Arafat back to the f@#$%A& Stone Age."

I'd try not to listen, block all this crazy talk out. But that isn't too easy in Max's Freehold, New Jersey house. Now 73 years old, he came here to escape "the races" living in New York. But as Max discovered, he can't hide from America's rich racial diversity. "Another Newark shooting, another Nigger with a gun, the Klan got it right, I hate these blacks and Civil Rights," he yelled on our last trip to New Jersey. "Get the blacks out of here. Back to Africa." I'd try to reason with Max (my TV show would be a series of visits that will explore bigotry's ugliness), ask him why he was so hateful. But even before I could ask my question, he'd be ranting and exaggerating once again. "These wetback Spics, in Miami, California, Manhattan, you can't hear English, they're taking over the place. It's the same with the Chink. Our pinko government let them in in the '60s, and that killed lower Manhattan. Ruined it."

Max goes after everybody when he has a captive audience. So, I cringed when my mom hurried me along, and tried to think of ways I could escape this drive into Max's hell. I couldn't, though, so I'm going to again try to talk sense with Max, get him to realize how different races are enriching America, creating a model for the world. This might be dreaming. But sitting with Max, and having him see the craziness of his thinking, could hopefully be a lesson on TV of a more tolerant color.

Second Place (tie)

Hannah Korsmeyer
Grade 8
Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School
Old Lyme, Connecticut

The New Girl

Jessica MacDougal and her mom pulled in front of a large school. Jessica could not be more excited, this was her first day of school in this new town! She opened the door and rolled into her first class. About twenty puzzled faces looked at her. Jessica tried to say "hi", but she found that her voice had temporarily stopped wording. After a few awkward moments the teacher said in an all-too cheery voice, "Well! You must be Jessica MacDougal!" Realizing that she could never fit her wheel chair into the small area of a student desk, she headed for a small table behind the desks pretending that she thought the teacher had arranged for her to sit there all along. As class proceeded Jessica did not fail to notice all the whispering and giggles directed towards her. A curious number of people had to get up and sharpen their pencils in the sharpener directly behind Jessica. Jessica was a pretty good sport the entire time thinking this was how it always felt to be a new girl. All this was tolerable until lunch when, her food balanced on her lap, she stopped at the edge of a table full of nice looking girls. They all gave her nervous glances and pretended to see a friend at a different table whom they all hastily joined, leaving Jessica to eat alone.

For a couple of weeks this kind of behavior continued, rude looks and comments followed her everywhere she went. Jessica was sure that the remainder of the school year would not improve and settled to being a loner. One day, in Social Studies, the teacher announced that they would be doing a project with partners. Jessica was partnered with a girl named Amanda Goldberg. Amanda, not wanting to invite Jessica over to her house, nor go to Jessica's suggested that they stay after school to work on their project, Amanda was sure that Jessica would be useless and unable to do anything to help her with the project and did not cease to tell all of her friends the situation, Amanda was secretly amazed at how easily Jessica could maneuver in her wheel chair. They worked on their project, mostly silent, until 3:30. Then Amanda announced that she had to go and that they would meet the same time the next day. A few quiet sessions had gone by until Jessica couldn't stand it anymore and talked to Amanda. The conversations started slow, but picked up pace and flow as it went along. From these conversations Jessica learned that the reason most of the girls were being so openly mean to her was because they thought that because she was in a wheel chair she was stupid too and wouldn't notice if they were rude. Amanda grew to enjoy Jessica's company very much and, after the project, Amanda introduced Jessica to her friends. They soon grew to like Jessica too and realized that she was not stupid, just shy.

Read the Middle School Honorable Mention Essays