Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Race Card

Writing on media coverage of ghastly murder and mutilation of Eritrean refugee and Downtown Nashville fixture Freweini Gebremicael, Nashville Scene reporter P.J. Tobia noted:
[T]hough local business owners, musicians and artists have teamed up to put on benefit concerts to raise money for the children she leaves behind, her strange and gruesome death has gone largely unnoted in the local press. Aside from a paid obituary, The Tennessean ran only a 48-word news brief (headline included) that was essentially a press release copied from the Metro police’s website. WKRN—Channel 2—did a short piece about her funeral that her family says was attended by more than 250 mourners. For one of the most shocking local murders in recent memory, this paucity of coverage is remarkable, especially considering how well liked the victim was.
Just try and convince me that the paucity of coverage of this horrid and suspicious murder/mutilation has nothing to do with the fact that Ms. Gebremicael was both black and African, and therefore less significant in the minds of local reporters, editors, producers, and publishers. Try and convince me of why her death and remembrance require any less attention than the murder of Janet March or the disappearance of Tabitha Tudors, whose only common denominator beyond achieving complete media saturation was the lightest color of skin. I dare you to even try.


  1. The Tennessean has a long history promoting diversity on its pages and within the community. I cant believe the coverage given to this story was driven by race.

    You are incorrect about the Janet March and Tabitha Tudors cases when you state "...the only common denominator beyond achieving complete media saturation was the lightest color of skin." In both cases no body was ever located prompting long searches which kept the stories in the papers and on tv.

  2. Nodding to diversity does not answer the question of why the Gebremichael story was ignored by the Tennessean. If race were not the reason, then what else would be?

    Second point taken on March and Tudors; but the mere presence of a body neither solves the mystery nor excuses the media's blind eye to the story.

  3. The presence of a body doesnt solve the mystery, but the lack of a body and the ensuing searches (with the constant updates on the search status) does explain how the March and Tudors cases stayed alive in the media for so long. In addition you had the legal battles between Perry March and the Levines which kept the story alive.

    One other point - at the time of the Tudors case their was an opinion the case didnt recieve the coverage it was due because of the economic / social background of the victim. Maybe the same thing applies here?

  4. The reason I chose the Tudors' case was to prevent a counter that the race and ethnicity of Gebremicael should be factored out in favor of class. (Even if that were the case, would subtle classism be any better than subtle racism?) To me it is a given that upper-class cases are going to get more play because the media tends to operate under the questionable assumption that monied people should generally be happier people; thus, the greater scandal when the wealthy and landed kill or hurt one another. But the fact that the Tudors case continues to get regular play suggests to me that race is a significant factor, even if a subtle one in where the guild directs its gaze.

    You still haven't explained the lack of attention to the Gebremicael case. I'd still have to say that race matters in the inattention.

  5. I'm with you Mike (see my post at NIT) but with Tabitha it could be the age thing, missing children garner more attention simply due to the need to protect them since they can't protect themselves.

  6. "You still haven't explained the lack of attention to the Gebremicael case. I'd still have to say that race matters in the inattention."

    I think the coverage or lack thereof speaks more to what the media feels is of interest and newsworthy than of racism. They will cover whatever draws readers or viewers.

    But if you look hard enough, and you are predisposed to do so, you can find racism anywhere.

  7. Leave it to the anonymous commenter to resort to ad hominem, hasty generalization, and straw man rather than to debate the question on the merits.

    I've given what I think is the simple explanation for ignoring this story. Saying that they are simply covering what draws readers is begging the question of what draws readers. (And why would they assume that this story wouldn't draw readers? Perhaps because she is black and African?)

    That's 4 logical fallacies in 3 sentences, anonymous. Congratulations.

  8. Take a murder case, compare it to two other cases, note varying degrees of news coverage, and also note one characteristic - race - to differentiate the first case from the latter two. Of course the reason for the variance in news coverage (if you are Inspector Clouseau or a S-Town Mike) is racism.

    As stated earlier, the cases you compared are very different. The lack of bodies in the March and Tudors cases, and the searches that took place, naturally extended the news coverage. The story continued even further in the March case with the legal battles between Perry and the Levinces, the arrests, and now the trial.

    The Tennessean is probably one of the most aggressive companies in town in promoting minorities and minority news coverage. To accuse them of racism with out any substantive proof other than the anecdotal info you provided is a slam to the Tennessean.

    There were around 100 murders in metro last year and every one of them was a tragedy. They didnt all receive the same news coverage and to the families of the victims this must seem unfair. But it isnt necessarily racism.

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  10. You burned up a lot of bandwidth in that last quote, brave anonymous, to flame me and to tap dance around the question you refuse to answer: what reasons justify ignoring the Gebremicael case (family feelings aside)? The Tennessean's hiring policies are not an answer.

    Since you give no answers, I'll just have to assume that you see the process by which cases get published as sheerly arbitrary. I think there was a reason that this case went underreported and I gave it.

  11. I do see the news process as largely arbitrary. I suspect the amount of coverage is determined by reasons as simple as (1) how easy is it to get a story, (2) what other stories are competing for coverage and (3) someone's judgement on the perceived level of interest in a story.

    The Tennesseans hiring policies were not my point - their policy of actively seeking out and reporting on minority news was. In that environment, and with a diverse newsroom, it would surprise me to find a racist bias in news coverage ever being allowed.

    The Gebremicael case is relatively recent having taken place in the last couple of months and the investigation is ongoing. You compare it to the accumulated coverage of the March and Tudors cases that have developed for years. If the Gebremicael develops, the media will cover it appropriately.

    If you approach every issue looking for racism, Im sure you can find it easily. But it is a sad way to live your life always looking for the bad side of human nature.

  12. I just wanted to add that this story was just run during an episode of Captured on Oxygen and it is the first time I heard about this horrible crime. It is still unsolved and I am not sure what the reasons were that caused such a horrible crime to not be documented by the Nashville media, but it is terrible that more attention was not focused on it when this happened. I hope that the airing of this today will reignite some life back into finding out who took this young woman's life.

  13. I've recently ran across this story, live in Nashville and did at the time. I think that is strange that a local business owner also said to be well liked didn't get the media coverage expected. why the lack of is my question. I mean look what is put on the news and look. at. what could or should have been. left off. RACE: I will. say. this I have noticed. that. minorities. get the least media coverage. when it could be helpful. but more when it involves. crime reporting or negativity. rather victim or perpetrator. they never forger to mention. their. past. history. as if that. matters in that of a victim. personally. I think. there us more. to the lack of coverage. and I won't say why, but. maybe that should. be looked into.