Double Standard When Covering Violent Tragedies
By George E. Curry
It’s sad enough when a violent crime mesmerizes the nation – such as the murder of nine African Americans in a Charleston, S.C. church, a fleeing Walter L. Scott being fatally shot in the back by North Charleston Patrolman Michael T. Slager, or two young, White journalists, Alison Parker and Adam Ward, gunned down on live television – but those tragedies are compounded by the media’s double standard.
Let’s begin with how the initial crime is reported.
How many times have we seen the graphic video of a uniformed Michael Slager in South Carolina remove his gun from his holster on April 4 and shoot 50-year-old Walter Scott as he was running away? With two huge trees in the foreground, we heard eight shots, four of them striking Scott in the back and one lodging in an ear.
Contrast that with the coverage of two promising White journalists in Roanoke, Va. Because it was what is called a live shot, we have even more graphic footage of their actual murders. The shooter also filmed his dastardly crime, later posting it on social media before committing suicide.
Did we see repeated clips of the two White journalists being murdered? No, we saw some freeze-frames just before the act. And when the New York Daily News published freeze-frame photographs of Alison Parker as she was shot, there was widespread condemnation.
USA Today reported, “The New York Daily News … published three still images from a video uploaded by suspected shooter Vester L. Flanagan II. The graphic images show reporter Alison Parker of WDBJ-TV seconds before she was shot up until the moment when it appears the first bullet hits her body.”
The newspaper reported, “Mike Drago, a commentary editor at the Dallas Morning News, called the The New York Daily News decision to post the stills ‘death porn,’ in an email to the Washington Post.”
An article by Leon Neyfakh on Slate.com observed, “By isolating the seconds before, during, and after Flanagan pulls the trigger, the Daily News is indulging in – and prompting others to indulge in – a morbid fascination with what it’s like to kill someone.”
Social media was also ablaze with criticism of the Daily News and how the decision would bring further grief to the families.
Where was the concern for the family of Walter Scott in S.C.? Why was it okay to show him over and over in his dying seconds?
You could make arguments for and against the Daily News’ decision. But whatever the standard, it should be applied fairly.
The Los Angles Times came closest in pointing out this obvious double standard when it asked in a headline: “Are we afraid to watch white people dying?”
It noted, “Online, some are questioning the conversations that happen in newsrooms before we post, share or edit videos. Are news outlets simply less troubled by the deaths of Black people and thus making the rest of America so?”
The newspaper recounted, “We saw Walter Scott collapse when he was shot in April in South Carolina – from a distance, but the video is steady and clear. We saw and heard Eric Garner gasp, ‘I can’t breathe’ as a New York Police Department officer put him in an apparent chokehold. And we saw a first-person view of Sam DuBose’s head exploding when he was shot by the University of Cincinnati police officer.”
This double standard is evident in how the crimes are described in the media.
A Media Matters headline declared: “Whether Fox News Acknowledges A Hate Crime Depends On The Race Of The Shooter.”
After the Charleston shootings, Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy said: “It was released earlier – And extraordinarily they called it a hate crime – And some look at it as, well, it’s because it was a White guy apparently in a Black church. But you made a great point just a moment ago about the hostility against Christians, and it was a church, so maybe that’s what they’re talking about…”
More than a half-dozen Fox hosts and guests suggested the killings in Roanoke was a hate crime.
When one guest suggested it would be more accurate to characterize the shootings as workplace violence, Gretchen Carlson countered, “But it says in the manifesto that – he wrote 23 pages and faxed to ABC News and now in the hands of Fox – he talks about race a lot. He put the initials of the Charleston church shooting victims on the bullets that he used today. He praised the Virginia Tech mass killer, the Columbine high school killers, says he was being attacked for being a gay Black man. He shot three White people today. Why is that not a hate crime?”
Fox commentators deny racism is a serious problem in the U.S.
Fox’s Steve Doocy said, “If we were a racist nation, Barack Obama would not have been elected president of the United States twice…”
He failed to mention that most Whites voted against Obama.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and BlackPressUSA.com