Tuesday, August 26, 2014


One final post on this subject and I'm done.

You may have seen this piece by Vox's German Lopez, which quotes several tweets from Demos researcher Sean McElwee purporting to show that The New York Times, over the years, has written nicer things about mass murderers and serial killers than about Mike Brown, the subject of a widely criticized portrait in yesterday's Times.

The tweets are quite devastating. They're also thoroughly misleading.

Here's McElwee comparing the Times coverage of Brown and John Wayne Gacy:

Yes, the Times article on Gacy contains this paragraph:
Before his arrest, most people knew Mr. Gacy as the owner of a prosperous remodeling business, a Democratic precinct captain who threw annual parties for up to 400 guests and who entertained youngsters as Pogo the Clown.
But here's the very next paragraph:
But one by one, prosecutors said later, Mr. Gacy lured young men into his modest ranch house in an unincorporated area near O'Hare International Airport. He handcuffed them, wrapped a rope around their necks and tightened it with a few turns from a wooden stick. The victims strangled themselves while struggling.
No, this wasn't a puff piece. That paragraph is much worse than anything the Times has written about Mike Brown.

Here's McElwee on a Times story about Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold:

Here's what McElwee doesn't quote from that Times story:
On Monday, they went bowling. And on Tuesday, it seems, they committed mass murder.

Nobody had taken the two youths seriously.

They wore long black coats and hung out with a clique of middle-class suburban teen-agers that called itself the trench coat mafia...

They struck sullen, brooding poses. They talked about Hitler and wore clothes with German insignia. In February they completed a "diversion program" for first-time juvenile offenders, after their arrest for breaking into a van and stealing electronic equipment, the Jefferson County District Attorney said.

The other students, who came to know Mr. Harris and Mr. Klebold from mingling in the hallways and the commons, said the two youths had wanted to portray themselves as rebels or villains. But they were mostly viewed as losers.
Again, not a sympathetic portrait.

McElwee on Timothy McVeigh:

Not quoted from that Times story:
Residents of the Canyon West Mobile Park drew a picture of an arrogant loner who worked as a security guard for a now-defunct trucking company, lived with his pregnant girlfriend, expressed deep anger against the Federal Government and often caused trouble for his neighbors.

"He drank a lot of beer and threw out the cans, and I always had to pick them up," Bob Ragin, owner of the park, was quoted as saying. He said he had frequent fights with Mr. McVeigh, who often wore Army fatigues, over such things as loud rock music coming from his trailer and a dog he kept in violation of his lease.

Another Kingman resident recalled Mr. McVeigh at a shooting range. "Quite frankly, it scared the hell out of me," Jeff Arrowood told the newspaper. He said Mr. McVeigh fired hundreds of rounds at random targets. "He pretty much went crazy, emptying on anything -- trees, rocks, anything there. He just went ballistic."
There's also this:
Federal officials say his far-right political views, his anger and his taste for weapons merged last Monday when he rented a truck in Kansas and filled it with explosives that he set off in Oklahoma City on Wednesday.
And this:
Mr. McVeigh became involved with extreme right-wing political groups off-post. The sergeant said he could not identify the groups, but added, "cults is what I call them."
McElwee on Ted Bundy:

Not quoted from that story:
The killer, who stalked victims in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-1970's terrorized several university communities, selecting coeds for abduction from campuses at night or crowded parks in daytime when their defenses were lowered in familiar settings....

He usually throttled them and then sexually abused and mutilated them before disposing of their bodies in remote areas. If the skeletons were found months or years later there was nearly always evidence of fractured skulls and broken jaws and limbs.

"This kind of mutilation reveals a hatred of the female body," said Dr. David Abrahamsen a New York psychiatrist who is an authority on those who kill people in a series and is author of "The Murdering Mind."
McElwee on "Green River Killer" Gary Leon Ridgway:

Not quoted from that story:
For Gary Leon Ridgway's fellow workers at the Kenworth Truck Company, it was not exactly a bolt out of the blue when the authorities apprehended him at work on Friday and announced he was the prime suspect in the nation's largest case of unsolved serial murders.

They knew that Mr. Ridgway had been questioned by the police about 15 years ago in the so-called Green River killings -- the slayings from 1982 to 1984 of as many as 49 young women, many of them runaways or prostitutes, in the Seattle area. Some of the bodies were dumped in the river south of Seattle that lends the case its name....

Mr. Ridgway had brushes with the law that his co-workers and neighbors apparently did not know about -- the first in 1980, two years before the Green River killings started. A prostitute working near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport accused him of trying to choke her, but Mr. Ridgway told the police the woman had tried to bite him, and charges against him were dropped.

They also did not know that witnesses had told investigators that Mr. Ridgway had been seen with at least a few of the victims in the Green River case.

Two weeks ago, King County police vice squad members arrested him, charging him with loitering for prostitution, again near the airport. He pleaded guilty last Tuesday.
Only in this tweet is McElwee on somewhat solid ground:

The Times story he quotes does describe Theodore Kaczynski as an eccentric but quiet neighbor. There are no negative details about him.

But it was one of seven Times stories on Kaczynski dated April 5, 1996. This is from one of the other stories:
... in their search, agents said, they discovered that the little home was full of the raw material of lethal bombs.

Inside the cabin, the agents found a partly completed pipe bomb as well as chemicals, wiring and aluminum that could be used to build such bombs, said the F.B.I. affidavit, submitted by Special Agent Donald J. Sachtleben.

There were also notes related to construction of pipe bombs, Mr. Sachtleben's affidavit said, and 10 three-ring binders that "contain page after page of meticulous writings and sketches which I recognize to be diagrams of explosive devices."

Books on bomb manufacturing, written in both English and Spanish, were also found, the affidavit said. (Agents said Mr. Kaczynski understood Spanish.) There were also solid cast ingots, C-cell batteries, electrical wiring and logs of experiments on how different bombs would perform in various weather conditions, the F.B.I. said.
Cherry-picking the most benign paragraphs from a story about a killer and comparing them to the most negative paragraphs in a story about a victim demonstrates nothing. The Times is not nice to the killers McElwee has named. It just seems that way when the quotes are selected McElwee's way.

And, of course, a story about what the neighbors knew regarding a serial killer is going to have less negative detail if it's written just after the killer's capture because serial killers cover their tracks. Ted Kaczynski worked hard to conceal the fact that he was committing atrocities; Mike Brown didn't try nearly as hard to conceal his minor transgressions. So of course, when asked, all the neighbors could say about Kaczynski was that he had a nice garden.


Victor said...

Thanks for the great deconstruction of that, Steve.
It showed the writer's bias.

Victor said...

Thanks for the great deconstruction of that, Steve.
It showed the writer's bias.

Victor said...

Duplicate, again?

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with you, Steve. What this shows is that when the NYT does a profile, they don't go out of their way to make it all positive or all negative.

The only criticism that strikes me as legitimate is the idea of even doing a profile of a victim. (I believe someone in the comments of the previous thread brought this up). It leads people to conclude that the victim either did or didn't "deserve" it, but the background information is rarely relevant.

Of course people are curious about the backstories of the people involved, but it has little if any true news value.

Roger said...

At least this will revive the Gacy was a Democrat meme.

Thank G-d for Ted Bundy.