May 18, 2007
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.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: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: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.)
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.)
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.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.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.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.
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
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