Vox Attacks Media Coverage of Crime, Offers Few Examples


Vox has discovered media bias but claims the real victims are Muslims.

After the Chapel Hill shooting on Tuesday, Vox’s Amanda Taub published a story titled, “One quote that shows how the media covers mass shootings differently based on race.” You can actually discern from the headline alone that what follows isn’t going to make much sense. Showing how the media covers something would require an investigation or at least some analysis. It’s not the kind of thing that necessarily lends itself to “one quote.”

Sure enough, the one quote doesn’t show anything; it simply asserts something: “When a Muslim kills someone = blame entire religion, when a black man kills someone = blame entire race, when a white guy kills someone = crazed lone gunman.” Taub backs this up with another tweet:

Media guide to violence

The tweets certainly establish that some people (including several thousand that retweeted the image above) think the media is being unfair. Taub summarizes the concerns saying, “when Muslims or African-Americans commit crimes, the media is eager not only to see those acts as part of a broader pattern, but also to interpret them as evidence that those communities embraced norms or values that contributed, at least indirectly, to violence.”

Having clarified the accusation being made in the tweets, we next ought to turn to the substance. Is the accusation true? And even if it is, are there reasons that might justify divergent treatment of various acts? What ought to come next in Taub’s piece is some evidence and analysis. Here is what we get:

That tendency takes many forms. Demands that moderate Muslims personally condemn every act of Islamist terrorism, for instance. Or assertions that black “culture” encourages black people to commit crime.

That first link is to a piece by Max Fisher. As it happens, I wrote a response to that piece noting that a.) Fisher had only provided one poor example, and b.) asking a group to condemn an act of violence is standard operating procedure on the left and has been for many years (think of their treatment of pro-lifers or the NRA). Unlike Fisher and Taub, I offered several examples including the progressive media’s reaction to Sarah Palin after the Tucson shooting (Vox’s Matt Yglesias was one of the people whipping up the mob in that case).

As for the second link, assertions that black “culture” encourages crime are based around the disproportionate rate of violent crime which sees blacks as both victims and perpetrators. Some have argued the crime statistics are partly the result of a culture in which two-parent families are no longer the norm. As with any discussion of crime and race, these views are contested hotly, but it’s worth noting that even President Obama has suggested on several occasions that the decline in black fatherhood is a disturbing trend which needs to be countered. Taub continues:

If white Americans commit similar crimes, however, the response tends to be quite different. People like Elliot Rodger, whose murder spree at the University of Santa Barbara in 2014 killed six people and injured 13 others, or James Holmes, who murdered 12 people and wounded 70 more in a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, are treated like mentally ill individuals, not as evidence of broader problems with “white culture.”

Here Taub offers two examples of men who were treated like “mentally ill individuals.” One possible explanation: both were mentally ill individuals. In fact, Taub admits in the next paragraph that Rodger “had a long history of mental illness.” James Holmes’s behavior also set off warning bells before the shooting. His psychiatrist warned police a month before that he was expressing “homicidal thoughts.” To this list one could add Adam Lanza, Cho Seung-Hui, and Jared Lee Lougner—all of whom exhibited odd behavior and possibly undiagnosed mental illness for years before going on shooting sprees.

At this point, it should go without saying that people who were likely (or definitely) mentally ill are judged differently than people who are not mentally ill. That judgment, and not skin color, plays a central role in whether a violent act is seen as the result of a deranged mind or something else. Cho Seung-Hui was judged mentally ill because of his behavior, not because he was Caucasian. What did Cho mean by Ismail Ax? We may never know. Lanza was obsessed with violence and chose to murder innocent children. Is there an ideology that anyone can discern from that other than nihilism?

On the other hand, no one has alleged the Charlie Hebdo attackers were mentally ill in the way that Cho, Loughner, or Elliot Rodger seemed to be. The same goes for the the 9/11 attackers, the 7/7 attackers, etc.—they seem to be motivated by an ideology, not mental illness. If the Charlie Hebdo attackers say they killed 12 people to revenge Muhammad, then Muhammad becomes part of the story.

Might the mental illness excuse obscure other motives? Taub does have a point that Elliot Rodger is different than some of the other killers mentioned. Though he was mentally ill, he was also fixated on punishing women for his problems. In his case misogyny became a kind of ideology (one expressed in his own words on video) and, therefore, a legitimate part of the story. But is it remotely true that the media has not explored the misogyny connection in Rodger’s case? No, in fact, that’s not the case at all.

The misogyny angle was covered by NPR, The Atlantic, and MSNBC. The Washington Post went so far as to connect Rodger’s misogyny to “sexist” films. Gawker said it was the obvious cause. Salon blamed the spree on “toxic male entitlement.” The Guardian simply claimed “misogyny kills.” I personally watched an episode of Law and Order which made the connection. In case the point still isn’t made, the Rodger’s case inspired a hashtag which was used over 1.6 million times. The hashtag inspired another round of media coverage like this story at CNN. I think it’s safe to say word about Rodger’s misogyny got out. In fact, it was probably the most remarked upon aspect of the shooting. It definitely was not overlooked by the media.

Mental illness often doesn’t leave much room for a coherent ideology. That’s why, when a shooting occurs and mental illness is a factor, it tends to short-circuit other potential motives. The situation is very different with Islamic killers acting (they say) in accord with their faith or with gang-bangers (white or black) fighting over a city’s drug trade. Their actions, while horrible, are not the result of insanity but stem from some coherent motive. After thousands of shootings (2,500 in Chicago in 2014 alone) and acts of Islamic terrorism which have killed thousands, it’s appropriate to ask if a toxic culture or ideology is to blame.