You may remember how a 2014 New York Times story called Michael Brown “no angel.” Or how New York tabloids dug into the criminal history of a homeless man murdered by a white supremacist earlier this year. The victim-blaming or -shaming genre is well established in the white-male-dominated American journalistic canon. Equally prevalent is the tendency of the media to give the benefit of the doubt to white killers or suspects.
This week’s tawdry exhibit in the latter category comes in two parts. First, an Associated Press report sanitized a man suspected of two murders in Louisiana that are thought to be racially motivated. Then New York Post headline writers twisted the situation further to make the suspect even more sympathetic.
Authorities are holding 23-year-old Kenneth Gleason on drug-related charges, and he’s also suspected for two ambush-style shootings of black men in Baton Rouge last week. The local sheriff has said there is a “strong possibility” the murders were racially motivated.
AP reporters in four cities collaborated on covering the news, including a quote from the aunt of one of the victims, Donald Smart, expressing shock for the loss of a loved one. Then came not one, but three, people praising the man suspected of murdering him in cold blood (emphasis mine):
No one answered the door at Gleason’s house in a quiet neighborhood of mostly ranch-style homes with well-kept lawns, located about 10 miles from the sites of the shootings.
“He looks like any clean-cut American kid,” said neighbor Nancy Reynolds, who said she didn’t know Gleason or his family. She said it was “hard to believe this sort of thing is still happening.”
Two of Gleason’s cousins said they couldn’t believe he had anything to do with the killings.
“He had no problems with any person,” said Garrett Sing, 37. “He had black friends, white friends, Asian friends. He made friends with anyone.”
Another cousin, 33-year-old Barton Sing, described Gleason as a “good kid” and recalled how his cousin recently asked him to teach him how to bow hunt.
“He said he never liked guns. That’s why he wanted to get into archery,” Sing said. “He’s the last person I’d think to do something like this.”
The quotes that paint that picture—a clean-cut American kid who has black friends and is the last person you’d expect to commit racial violence—may as well comprise the holy trinity of white media victimization.
But that slant was pedestrian next to the New York Post’s treatment, which pulled out the money quote for its headline and tweet.
Normalizing white violence is standard fare for the Ruper Murdoch-owned Post, which earlier this year described the racist killer of a black homeless man in New York as “well-dressed.” Terms like “thug” are meanwhile reserved for suspects who aren’t “clean-cut American kids.” Another great day for some of our biggest news outlets!