In the 1960s when I was a beat reporter for a daily newspaper in Virginia and later taught journalism, many would snicker, "if it bleeds, it leads." Yet bleeding leads sold papers, and 40 years ago, even decent publications sometimes indulged.
However, it is astonishing to see in 2012 The Sun for over a solid week headline front page over and over a Morgan State University student's alleged murder and cannibalism of a friend. While gory details are hashed over continuously and delicious new ones slipped in, very few new or for that matter, explanatory, aspects are introduced.
The usual blame spreading is done. (For example, could the university have prevented the slaughter?) And some 10th grade psychology is alluded to, but there is not a hint of any significant discussion of cannibalism. Historically, it is very, very rare and with different meanings. Among the Aztecs it was done for both religious reasons and as a form of food acquisition. In other societies, it was respect for the defeated by eating parts of them.
This and other contextual information could be identified easily by even a Sun sports writer or crime reporter. Instead, pictures of the alleged assailant, a citizen of Ghana, are endlessly displayed. It is interesting that The Sun allowed the mayor's office and Baltimore police to completely fool it about the magnitude of theSt. Patrick's Dayriots and the race of the participants. It was almost as if the paper were afraid of offending by reporting these events accurately. Yet it has no problem engaging in one of the worst smears of Africans and African-Americans that I have ever witnessed in my life through its depiction of this horrible event and the same photo of the alleged assailant, over and over again.
This is especially tragic since such a murder in extremely rare and to handle it the way The Sun is doing reinforces the very most base prejudices of the population. The message is so blatant that The Sun staff does not even need knowledge of subliminal text. Indeed, one friend commented that it was a good thing that no sexual parts were allegedly consumed or the newspaper would be doing its mini-"Silence of the Lambs"front page reporting past Halloween!
So there is no misunderstanding, I am not suggesting the paper is being intentionally racist. There is no reason to think The Sun's staff is either that evil or that intelligent. I am suggesting that the paper can do better than have a young black man accused of a single (though horrible) crime headline the paper for over a week.
H. L. Goldstein, TowsonCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times