MY CHEAP TABLOID JOURNALISM, CONTINUED....

In a somewhat tongue-in-cheek post, M. Simon noted earlier that he and Glenn Reynolds are both guilty of tabloid journalism. I don't know whether to take issue with Glenn Reynolds's coverage of the Christian/Newsom murder case or to plead guilty to tabloid overage myself, but here's what M. Simon said:

Glenn Reynolds seems to like to do tabloid bits (who doesn't?) and today he is featuring the CHANNON CHRISTIAN / CHRISTOPHER NEWSOME KILLING, a particularly gruesome job, with black criminals and white victims. BTW note how important it must be to be ALL CAPS. Well at least he didn't go the extra step and BOLD IT as well.
Well, am I ever feeling left out! Because it just so happens that I did go the extra step of bolding it! Here's what I put in bold (and I will explain why):
Innocent couple driving down the street fell victim to a carjacking, they were kidnapped, the man was raped while his girlfriend was forced to watch, he was castrated while alive, then murdered, following which the woman was kept and raped for four days, her breast cut off while she was alive, with both bodies being eventually burned.
As I explained, those awful details -- of pre-mortem sexual mutilation (usually in bold) -- are driving the story, but the point is, they have not been verified.

Forgive my, um, boldness, but I am beginning to suspect that this story is being fed by a steady diet of misinformation and possibly deliberate disinformation. More -- not less -- attention should be paid to it, and I don't care whether it's tabloid journalism or not. However, to the extent tabloid journalism means sensationalized and misleading reporting, accurate reporting might be a form of detabloidization (if there is such a term). The story Glenn links actually drives home this point:

Web sites describe gruesome details that are not in the public record.

(Bold-erization supplied.)

In a nutshell, that's the biggest problem with this story. The sickeningly gruesome details which fuel it are nowhere to be found. As the victims are dead and the suspects inherently unreliable as witnesses, the only place that proof of pre-mortem mutilation could be found would be in the medical examiner's report. Yet not one site has links to any medical report -- or any other report. The originating source for the allegations is one Stefanie Williams, whose only "proof" is a naked assertion that there were "reports":
Once again, the only relevant links point to what is titled an "Opinion" by University of Maryland student Stefanie Williams:
According to reports, his penis was then cut off before he was shot several times and set on fire, all while his girlfriend watched. His body was then dumped alongside train tracks. Christian was kept alive and gang-raped multiple times over a span of four days. Her breast was cut off while she was still alive and her kidnappers sprayed cleaning fluid into her mouth to cleanse it of DNA. Her body was then put into a garbage can.
That's it. "According to reports." What reports? There are none I can find. There are plenty of links pointing to each other, and ultimately to the above, but nothing else. (Of course, it is also possible that there is something else, but despite a diligent search I haven't found it.)
And it seems that no amount of diligence will find it. I never received a reply to my email to Stefanie Williams, and although Mike Gaynor of the Conservative Voice stated that she emailed him, in his email to me I got the impression that she is the reportorial equivalent of a anonymous source:
He stated that he has been in contact with Ms. Williams and "discussed her source(s) with her" but that "it would not be appropriate for me to reveal more."
I'm sorry, but with a story this important, journalists should reveal more. This is not to say that Gaynor should reveal more, but I think Stefanie Williams should. She's the journalist who should bear the responsibility for first reporting unconfirmed -- and so far unconfirmable -- details which fuel the ever-growing story.

To put it bluntly, at this point the public has a right to know whether there is any basis to the allegations -- and Stefanie Williams's report.

Too many people are linking links to links which simply recite words which just go to the same words which go to the same words. It's an unfortunate aspect of the Internet (and IMO, places bloggers in a better position to examine whether the links they provide actually go somewhere.)

With regards to my growing suspicions, I linked another remarkable "report" the other night, and I strongly suspect it's a hoax:

Jacque Patrick Fitzgerald (Knoxville) - St. Nicolas Thief, president and founder of Black Poverty Speaks, along with many local Knoxville blacks who live in the Washington Pike area has organized a social action protest celebration championing Lemaricus Davidson and Letalvis Cobbins.

Davidson and Cobbins are the brothers and two of the five suspects charged in the carjacking, kidnapping, rape and murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.

"We're coordinating the celebration to to jive with the march angry whites are planning in memory of the victims and because of the 'media black-out' they note the case is receiving from national news networks," Thief, who is currently stationed in Knoxville, said.

Etc.

After the umpteenth diligent search, I could find no such person as "St. Nicolas Thief," no such organization as "Black Poverty Speaks," and no such writer as "Jacque Patrick Fizgerald."

I suspect the latter is a pseudonym for some racist crackpot or agent provocateur. (I think most readers who check out some of his other "reports," will share my skepticism.)

I'm not alone in my suspicions. A Liberty Forum commenter named Das Man put it rather well:

I think this whole thing is just an obnoxious hoax.

I suspect that there is no "Black Poverty Speaks" org, there's no St Nicolas Thief (sic) ... there is no "Yacub 7 Ali"

Jacque Patrick Fitzgerald might be the same guy that runs to me fake looking site Svengalimedia, "Kirkland Perkins" or "Waldorf Carather"

they might be the guys or guy behind

http://www.americanpatriate.com/

If you google around, these names and sites are just linking to each other and are otherwise unknown.

Believe me, there is nothing more exhausting that googling around and finding "sites are just linking to each other and are otherwise unknown."

(Really. Aren't there enough white supremacists and black supremacists in this world without adding fake white supremacists and fake black supremacists?)

This case needs far more diligent attention than it has gotten. If the goal is to get the MSM to take the case seriously, the people who make that demand better start taking it seriously enough to verify the details.

Under the circumstances, I'm glad that Glenn Reynolds is paying attention. Back to the article Glenn linked with the capital letters:

Knoxville NAACP President Ezra Maize has been meeting with city and police officials. "We don't want to add fuel to the fire. Our goal is simply to keep the peace," he said.

"Whether it is black, white or Hispanic, there is no way in the world you cannot view what has taken place and not feel remorse for the families," Maize said. "At the same time, you cannot cast judgment as to who did it or who did not do it. That is not our place."

Angry bloggers have drawn comparisons to the Duke lacrosse rape case and wondered why the Newsom-Christian slaying hasn't gotten the same media attention. "Oh, that's right, the victims were WHITE!" wrote one.

Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor who operates Instapundit, a top current events and commentary blog, said he was branded an apologist by those bloggers after he wrote that he had seen no evidence the killings were a hate crime.

However, he said, "I think it is totally true if the races of the perpetrators and the victims were reversed, the press would make a bigger deal about it. I think some people (journalists) have been hanging back for fear of inflaming things."

Hmmm... I can just see the headlines....

KNOXVILLE MURDERS BECOME HUGE NATIONAL INTERNET STORY DESPITE MSM BLACKOUT !

Knoxville? Isn't that where InstaPundit actually lives? The same guy who was called an "apologist" for not seeing evidence that wasn't there to be seen? Under the circumstances, I wouldn't blame him if he did engage in a little tabloid journalism -- assuming the use of capital letters is that.

Of course, that doesn't excuse my tabloid journalism, for this is my fifth post on the subject, and I live nowhere near Knoxville....

UPDATE: In case no one realized it, I dislike sensationalized tabloid journalism, and I don't think my attempt to cut through misinformation constitutes tabloid journalism. Hence the deliberately sarcastic title of this post. (I hope I was being obvious, but on the Internet not all intentions are obvious.)

Lest anyone think Glenn Reynolds advocates the tabloidization of this story, not only has he consistently argued for patience and restraint (and against making unwarranted assumptions), but he just linked a very thoughtful post which praises the local Knoxville authorities for not acting like Mike Nifong:

The popular comparison for media coverage is to the Duke Lacrosse case, because the races of the accused and victims are inverted. This is considered the main difference driving the degree of coverage. But there's another difference that matters - in the Duke case, the DA actively sought out media coverage. He was either trying to drum up witnesses for an ongoing investigation (if you want to be charitable towards him), or exploiting the racial aspect of the case to help his re-election bid (if you don't.) Either way, he actively asked the media to cover his case. The authorities in Knoxville have not. Are the Knoxville authorities wrong for not acting enough like Mike Nifong?
No they are not wrong at all. I tried to make a similar point in an earlier post:
What's really eating at me is how all of this might affect the legal aspects of the case. I was trained as a lawyer, and I do believe in the concept of justice, and it is important that all suspects receive a fair and impartial trial -- no matter how horrifying the facts or circumstances of the case. From a prosecutorial perspective, (unless, of course, you're Mike Nifong and running for office) massive pretrial publicity is not good thing, because it makes it harder to find an objective and unbiased jury, and tends to turn the trial into a circus. Like it or not, there's simply no way to avoid the growing public interest in this case, which is why I think it is important to get the story straight. If massive publicity is based on allegations which later turn out to have been unsubstantiated, I think that might help the defendants avoid the death penalty, because the lawyers could then portray their clients as victims of a lynch mob. Activist defense lawyers like the late William Kunstler would have a field day painting poor black defendants as victims of massive, Internet-fueled hysteria, and false allegations promulgated by "right wing hate sites." And of course there are "right wing" hate sites which are all over this case. (Just Google "Channon Christian vnn" or "Channon Christian" "David Duke" for a sampling.)
And earlier today, Glenn linked another report which makes me suspect that the publicity may already be affecting the case:
There is already talk that one defendant's attorney will file a motion to move the trial out of Knox County.
Publicizing this story may be free speech, but it will not help the prosecution. However, publicizing unconfirmed allegations and spreading misinformation can only help the accused, and I wish people would stop and think about what they are doing.

UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link.

If anyone has any further thoughts, I'm all ears.

UPDATE (05/21/07): Undercover Black Man does a pretty good job of debunking "St. Nicolas Thief" and "Svengalimedia.com." (The website's name is almost a giveaway, IMO.)

BTW, there is no logical reason to assume that hoaxes are necessarily perpetrated by "the other side." People who want to deliberately incite racial hatred might have a variety of reasons for doing so.

MORE: Speaking of linking to links that go nowhere, the Christian Broadcasting Network has simply recited the gruesome unverified details as if they are facts, but the only link they provide goes to the Flopping Aces blog post which has zero links.

AND MORE: According to Nicholas Stix (who has devoted a lot of time to researching this issue), the first Internet references to the pre-mortem sexual mutilation seem to come from notorious white racist Hal Turner. (While I would not trust the date given by the archiveless Hal Turner web site, I did find discussion group references to it going back as early as February 21.)

The problem is that Hal Turner cannot be considered a legitimate news source. As best I can determine, the first legitimate news story making these allegations remains Stefanie Williams.

I guess it's possible that the "source" she cited might have been Hal Turner. (That might explain her reluctance to discuss the matter further.)

posted by Eric on 05.18.07 at 01:35 PM










Comments

[Knoxville NAACP President Ezra] Maize said. "At the same time, you cannot cast judgment as to who did it or who did not do it. That is not our place."
Maybe he should tell this to the North Carolina NAACP.

Paul L.   ·  May 18, 2007 2:15 PM

"However, publicizing unconfirmed allegations and spreading misinformation can only help the accused, and I wish people would stop and think about what they are doing."

Wouldn't that be nice! But I won't hold my breath waiting on it to happen.

Kent   ·  May 19, 2007 11:02 AM

Good post, and thanks for the thumbs-up.

Gib   ·  May 19, 2007 12:37 PM

Thank you for coming! Great blog too.

Eric Scheie   ·  May 19, 2007 7:04 PM

The rally may or may not have been a hoax. But there is a "St Nicholas Thief", and he is not a hoax. He is a writer on Svengalimedia, a racist anti-white hate site:
http://www.svengalimedia.com/race/sexiest_black_male_felon_2006.html

The site has headlines like: "I hope Prince Harry dies in Iraq", or "snooty priveleged slave heiress deserved to be killed by slave descendants"

Notice all the vile text on the site are in picture format, so its harder to quote.

JR

http://shieldofachilles.blogspot.com

John Rohan   ·  May 20, 2007 12:27 PM


I certainly hope you are correct sir that some of these details of the case are not as has been stated, but lets be clear: if even part of it is true, no such crime has been committed by anyone since the days of the Old Testament as far as I know, at least until here in modern day America. One reason the Knoxville Horror has been covered up by the media is of course due to the concerns of the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce,much like the Mayor of Amity Village in the motion picture "Jaws" who fails to inform the public of the shark attacks at the beach, but that is no excuse for the media coverup. There are plenty of details they could have reported without publishing unsubstantiated allegations, but the national media didn't even do that. As a news junkie, I should have known about this atrocity in January, not May. The national media has much to answer for in this case. Thank you for reading this E-mail.

Kirk   ·  May 20, 2007 10:05 PM

Here is a link to the actual indictment that was returned by the Knox County grand jury: http://web.knoxnews.com/pdf/0202body_presentment.pdf. The indictment spells out that Chris Newsom was raped, and that Channon Christian was raped in pretty much every way imagineable. The sheer number of rape charges included in the indictment would indicate that Ms. Christian was raped over a period of several days, although the dates are not included in that indictment.

Here's a link to Knoxville NBC affiliate WBIR that references the search warrant: http://www.wbir.com/news/archive.aspx?storyid=41555. The search warrant included details of a witness who observed cleaning fluid being sprayed into Ms. Christian's mouth, which confirms that part of the story. That story also references the medical examiner's report, which found that her body had been burned using an accelerant, confirming that grisly detail.

Here's a link to a Knoxville News Sentinel article that confirms that Mr. Newsom's body was set afire with gasoline: http://www.knoxnews.com/kns/local_news/article/0,1406,KNS_347_5289403,00.html.

So, the only details that haven't been validated by court documents or court proceedings so far are those that claim that the couple were mutilated pre-mortem. Even if they hadn't been mutilated, this crime is still among the most horrific I've ever read about.

But there is an important note from the medical examiner's report contained in the above link to the WBIR story. He notes that Christian's body had been "physically assaulted." Keep in mind that the body had been burned using an accelerant, so the signs of assault would have to be more obvious than bruises or small cuts, since those would likely not have been obvious to the medical examiner after the body had been set afire. I can only suspect that he's referencing something more ominous (and in fact may have spelled it out but the local press felt it was too graphic to include in their story; the only way to know for sure would be to request a copy of that report).

Still, if the bodies had been mutilated and that had been noted by the ME, there would be no way of knowing whether that had been done pre-mortem or post-mortem until the autopsy report is released (unless the suspects revealed these details in interrogations; and from press reports, they did quite a bit of accusing one another but of course the D.A.'s office will hold on to those details until trial).

I hope, for the victims' sake, that the reports of pre-mortem mutilation aren't true. But I'm afraid that once the autopsy report is made public, you'll find details within that state the mutilation did occur (as an aside note, several stories in the local press begin by stating the "torture, rape and murder" of the couple, but they never spell out what they're referencing by torture. How many details do they have that they aren't printing?).

BenG.   ·  May 20, 2007 10:57 PM

I do hope that some of the more gruesome details are untrue as they are the stuff of nightmares. However, let us not diminish what happened in Knoxville, this was a terrible vicious crime and that Young couple lived through unimaginable Hell during their final hours.

Their tragic deaths should not be used for political purposes by either side. Those who dismiss the people who are concerned at the lack of reporting this case as "white supremacists" are being as dishonest as those they seek to condemn. It is only through an honest evaluation of the facts that we have a change of learning from this tragedy.

Sarah Davies

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Anonymous   ·  May 24, 2007 6:46 PM

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