Reporting On Race
September 16, 2005, 02:23 AM
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Jay Nordlinger prints an email he got in his column on National Review Online

Jay,

Why is it that everything has to be racialized? Here's the headline over an Associated Press story: "Texas Black Woman Scheduled for Execution." "Texas Black Woman"? Why not just "Texas Woman"? She murdered her family. What does her race have to do with it?

I'm afraid Jay gets a little carried away with this color-blind thing. While Justice should be color-blind, crime reporting needn't be. The NAACP certainly claims they see a link between race and the death penalty.

But reporters not only "racialize" capital punishment, for political effect, they "de-racialize" crime.

Frances Newton killed her husband and her two small children for the insurance money in 1987.

I was able to track down the 1987-88 headlines about the murder in the Houston Chronicle's archive and none of them said anything like "Black Woman Kills Her Whole Family." They said nothing about here race at all.

They said as follows

  • Woman charged in shooting deaths of husband, 2 children
  • Mom stood to benefit, says agent/Murder trial lists insurance policies
  • Wife admits hiding gun, denies killing mate, two children
  • Woman convicted in killing husband, her two children
  • Jury finds woman guilty in deaths of husband, kids
  • Jury gives Newton death in slayings of her family

So, you see, the press can avoid racializing things: it just depends on the outcome they're trying to achieve.