Andrew Yang says being Asian American may explain lack of media coverage

The candidate also said the Yang Gang needs to avoid attacking his critics.
Image: Andrew Yang
Democratic presidential candidate and businessman Andrew Yang at a fundraiser for the Nevada Democratic Party on Nov. 17, 2019, in Las Vegas.John Locher / AP file

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By Kimmy Yam

For months, Andrew Yang and his supporters have criticized the news media for not paying more attention to his presidential campaign. In an interview with NBC News, Yang said he thinks his race may have something to do with it.

“Race might enter into it in the sense that my candidacy seems very new and different to various media organizations,” said Yang, who is Asian American. “I think you can make an argument that it’s somehow intersecting with some other dynamics.”

One news organization that has come under particular fire from Yang’s supporters, known as the “Yang Gang,” is MSNBC (which is owned by NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News) for having omitted the candidate’s name from polling and fundraising graphics on several occasions, even though Yang has polled better than others in the field who have appeared on screen. CNN has done the same, and Yang has also been misidentified and misnamed several times by other outlets.

While some supporters have claimed mainstream media outlets are conspiring against the candidate, tweeting their outrage with hashtags like #YangMediaBlackout, MSNBC has said Yang’s absence from graphics were mistakes, for which it apologized on social media and acknowledged on the air. CNN has also updated graphics and provided an apology in the past.

On one occasion, Yang claimed he was left off of a fundraising graphic. However, the candidate had not released his own numbers until after it had aired. He later admitted to his error in a tweet.

MSNBC declined to comment further, and CNN did not return NBC News’ request for comment.

Many Asian Americans, including Korean American author Marie Myung-Ok Lee, have wondered whether the omissions are symptomatic of how the greater American society sees, or rather doesn’t see, Asian Americans. The comedian Hasan Minhaj’s latest episode of his Netflix show, “Patriot Act,” entitled “Don’t Ignore the Asian Vote in 2020,” called out the media’s treatment of Yang and politicians’ failure to address the Asian American electorate.

In an op-ed article in the Los Angeles Times, Lee drew parallels between Yang’s treatment to her own experiences growing up as one of the few Asian Americans in her town.

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“As a young child in an all-white town, no matter how much I raised my hand in school or tried to make my voice heard, I was ignored so often I learned to use quietness to my advantage,” Lee wrote.

She added: “There is no way to prove these omissions are related to Yang’s being Asian, but it’s impossible to miss the similarities with the micro (and macro) aggressions people in the Asian American community experience daily.”

Yang, an entrepreneur, suggested that the dominant reason for his media invisibility can be traced to his professional background, which doesn’t align with that of traditional presidential candidates, most of whom have served as elected officials.

“I didn’t have a public profile before, and some media organizations will naturally favor more traditional candidates,” he said.

Yang, who announced in November that he would no longer appear on MSNBC, said his protest of the cable outlet is significant in part because of the underlying stereotypes attached to Asians. He argued that the act of running for president itself “belies this image of Asian Americans as passive or docile and that you can sort of ignore us and everything is going to be fine.”

He also said that with the withdrawal of another Asian American presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., the overwhelmingly white composition of the field for the next Democratic debate, on Dec. 19, contributes to the national discourse around “this process and whether it’s been inclusive of people of different backgrounds.”

Research from The Guardian shows that Asian Americans have not been proportionately represented in the political sphere. The group remains the fastest-growing demographic, making up almost 6 percent of the U.S. population, but barely over 2 percent of members of Congress are Asian American. Barriers to political participation include high rates of limited English proficiency, which affects roughly one-third of the group’s population, as well as cultural hesitancies to get involved, as many come from immigrant families whose home countries have volatile political histories.

Democrats and Republicans often neglect the group. A 2018 joint survey from the nonpartisan civic engagement nonprofit APIAVote and the policy research and demographic organization AAPI Data revealed that a majority of Asian Americans had not been contacted by either party.

Jennifer Baik, a communications and policy associate at APIAVote, explained that political parties must make a concerted effort to recruit Asian Americans.

“On the one hand, having representation in terms of the actual nominees is important, but another aspect of making sure that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are involved in politics is making sure that there is a pipeline for these folks to be staffers, and being able to get their foot in on Capitol Hill,” she said. “Staffers hold a lot of power in congressional offices and that moves the same way in terms of campaigns.”

Baik said she has observed inroads being made in the latest election cycle. Roger Lau serves as Elizabeth Warren’s campaign manager, and Linh Nguyen is Cory Booker’s director of coalitions.

“A lot, if not most of the remaining Democratic presidential candidates have hired on a number of folks of AAPI descent to more senior positions in their campaign,” Balk said.

The candidate’s supporters have vocally expressed their frustration with the coverage of Yang, and some have resorted to harassment. Members of the Yang Gang have targeted reporters who have written about or addressed criticisms of Yang (including this reporter).

The candidate himself said he isn’t pleased with the behavior of some of his supporters, and said this harassment is not “a positive thing for the campaign and is inconsistent with our values.”

“I hope that my supporters take cues from my own behavior,” he said. “I understand people have different points of view, and I certainly would never think that the best way to persuade people or convince people is to attack them.”