Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Violation of a Child: White or Brown or Black??
JonBenet Ramsey And Racism
Quick: Name the big media event of last week involving the murder of a pretty little girl? You know it. Creepy wannabe murderer John Mark Karr returned to the United States voluntarily where he faced charges for the killing of JonBenet Ramsey. Thanks to the muckraking efforts of cable news and press reporters, we learned what delicacies Karr consumed during his flight from Thailand, among other details about his personal life. Now: Name the other story last week involving the murder of a pretty little girl.
Stumped? No wonder. The girl in question, Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi , was the wrong color to get the attention of U.S. media, even though the perpetrators were American.
Last week, Iraq opened its own investigation into the rape and murder of 14-year-old Iraqi al-Janabi and the murder of her sister and parents by American soldiers. The case is outrageous and significant on many levels -- U.S. troops implicated in a horrible act of violence against Iraqi civilians, the U.S. blocking the accused from being tried in Iraq, undermining any claims of our government's commitment to the "rule of law." But as gruesome as the alleged rape and murder of al-Janabi is, why has it received such scant coverage since it was first reported in early July (a search of Google News turns up 197 hits on this case, compared to 26,000 for Ramsey's)?
We all know that local and cable news and tabloids operate by the "if it bleeds, it leads" standard. What the media's silence on the grisly premeditated rape and murder of an Iraqi girl proves is that the news also has to be of the right "creed" to lead. For the purposes of this blog, I'm setting aside how the hours devoted to covering a dubious lead in a local murder case rather than the Bush administration's very current failures in the Gulf Coast show the sorry state of U.S. media. The profit principle of the networks dictates that crime news is the best news, so I'll accept that harsh reality and limit my outrage to this: Why isn't all crime news treated equally?
Juan Cole (thanks to Sheldon Rampton for flagging it) was among the first to cry foul over the media's silence on the al-Janabi case. Cole urged us consider what this says to the victims whose crimes are ignored:
That is frankly because the victim was not a blonde, blue-eyed American, but a black-eyed, brunette Iraqi. Both victims were pretty little girls. Both were killed by sick predators. But whereas endless speculation about the Ramsey case, to the exclusion of important real news stories, is thought incumbent in cabalnewsland, Abeer al-Janabi's death is not treated obsessively in the same way. ... CNN even calls the little girl a "woman" at first mention, because the U.S. military indictment did so. Only later in the article is it revealed that she was a little girl. The very pedophiliac nature of the crime is more or less covered up in the case of al-Janabi, even as looped video of Ramsay as too grown up is endlessly inflicted on us.
The message U.S. cable news is sending by this privileging of some such stories over others of a similar nature is that some lives are worth more than others, and some people are "us" whereas other people are "other" and therefore lesser. Indeed, it is precisely this subtle message sent by American media that authorized so much taking of innocent Iraqi life in the first place.
Juxtaposing the treatment of JonBenet's murder to Abeer's reveals in stark relief the biases of the media. But this is far from the first time it's been so clear. As Tamera Gugelmeyer reminds us on Alternet today, horrible cases involving the rape or abduction of African-American girls are routinely ignored in favor of the latest blonde American girl to go missing.
In the summer of 2002, the U.S. public faced similar questions when Elizabeth Smart, a blonde teen from an affluent Salt Lake City suburb, was abducted from her bedroom one June night. The case garnered hundreds of hours of local, regional, and national news coverage. Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, the abduction of Alexis Patterson, an African-American girl, went virtually unnoticed by the press. That same summer, Erica Pratt was named a Time Person of the Week in July 2002. Erica was a then-7-year-old African American girl who literally chewed her way free from her captors. Only by her extraordinary feat did she warrant the media's attention.
Jon Benet Ramsey, Elizabeth Smart, Chandra Levy, and Natalee Holloway—these names we know. But Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, Alexis Patterson, and Laura Berenice Monarrez, one of the more than 400 girls and women abducted, raped, and murdered in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez, are not only gone, they've been disappeared by the media.
Jon Benet, as almost everyone now knows, was a 6-year-old with blonde, bouncy curls from a white, wealthy family in affluent Boulder, Colorado. Her rape and murder is certainly no less vile than the rape and murder of Abeer, an Arab Muslim girl from a country shredded by war. But the implications in the coverage are alarming. The lack of in-depth coverage of Abeer's murder is, in effect and whatever the final outcome, a pre-pardoning for the six U.S. soldiers whose crimes are deemed unavoidable, if not acceptable, because they occurred during the U.S. occupation of a foreign country, against a dark-skinned child.
Rape and murder against Jon Benet, on the other hand, are reported as a heinous anomaly--bad things like that aren't supposed to happen to little white girls who are safely tucked in their beds.
The chief Iraqi prosecutor investigating Abeer and her family's murders, Adnan Mahmoud, is hoping to get U.S. permission to try the American soldiers in an Iraqi court. If the U.S. doesn't allow it, Mahmoud says he will try them in absentia. To get support for trying soldiers in Iraq, so that true justice can be done, Mahmoud say's it's important to "keep this case under the spotlight as long as possible so that it is not forgotten and the criminals are able to get away."
All the more regrettable that the U.S. media is allowing the JonBenet murder to hog the spotlight.--Alexandra Walker Thursday, August 31, 2006 1:43 PM
JonBenet Ramsey And Racism August 31, 2006
The Gap Is Getting Wider August 29, 2006
Katherine Harris And 'Just Us' Moments August 28, 2006
Tortured And Innocent August 25, 2006
What Reich Gets Wrong August 24, 2006