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Mass murders expose bias, stereotypes in media coverage

Where is the national outrage over inner-city slaughter?

Merdies Hayes | 10/8/2015, 12:22 a.m.
The murders in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado generally brought the heinous nature of mass killings into the ...

The murders in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado generally brought the heinous nature of mass killings into the American mainstream. There had been previous mass murders prior to that—perpetrated largely by young, so-called “disaffected” White teens and young adults—but now these horrific incidents are matched almost monthly by the strings of killings taking place in America’s inner cities.

The media has begun to adopt specific racial language about mass murder. Whether it be a lone gunman who in less than 20 minutes may slaughter multiple persons at a college, high school or grade school, or multiple gunmen who take 48 hours to kill a dozen or so persons in the inner-city between Friday and Sunday evening, reporters and commentators are more frequently attaching a biased view of the twisted minds hell-bent on bloodshed.

Texas biker shootout and ‘White thug life’

An example of the [speculative] racial bias in reporting about mass murders could be the coverage this summer of the “biker shoot-out” at a bar in Waco, Texas. Conversations confined to social media revealed frustration and anger at the way the incident was covered by professional news outlets and, specifically, how that coverage contrasted with the way such incidents are reported on when the people involved are Black. The biker shoot-out saw no extended conversation about gun control, mental illness, “White thug life” nor family breakdown. The latter typically comes up specifically when news media covers Black-on-Black homicides.

Some observers of the media suggest that the absence of any similar refrain in cases in which the suspected criminals are White is a sad reminder of how the idea of intraracial crime is almost exclusively—and unfairly—brought up when Black people are involved.

Another line of commentary that has become somewhat predictable in media coverage of Black gang killings versus White mass murders has to do with a reported “Black pathology”—especially fatherlessness—to explain the kind of violence that, when it happens in a White community or is perpetrated by White person(s), is more or less an isolated crime versus an indictment of an entire racial group’s way of life. News outlets are opting with more frequency to run headlines that exhibit an air of disbelief at an alleged “small-town” White killer’s supposed actions, while relying on a [longstanding] bias and misinformation about the background of the Black “gangbangers” and/or “thugs” who seemingly each week wreak havoc in some of the nation’s largest cities.

Bias in covering White suspects, Black victims

Some pertinent examples of a growing media racial bias in covering White suspects and Black victims may include a typical headline such as: “Ala. suspect brilliant, but social misfit” according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in covering the story last year of Amy Bishop, a former college professor who eventually pleaded guilty to killing three colleagues and wounding three others at a faculty meeting in 2010. Last year, AL.com ran the headline “Montgomery’s latest homicide victim had history of narcotics abuse, tangles with the law” in covering the shooting death of a 25-year-old Black man in Alabama.