Plenty of news organizations have reported on the tragic case of a white boy who was murdered while riding his bicycle.
One must ignore easily verifiable opposing evidence to claim that “the media” are universally ignoring this story. It’s even more unhinged to latch upon the conspiracy theory that the reason for this (non-existent) lack of coverage is that the media organizations are unified in their intention to control a particular racial narrative.
If you’ve think I’m wrong but you’re still reading, then I welcome you. That means you might actually be interested in how a journalism teacher responds to the latest social media meme attacking the news media.
The father and grandmother of the boy have said they don’t think race was a factor in his murder, and police have released no statement of any kind suggesting that race was a factor. Reporters can’t either hype or silence information that police don’t release and opinions that relatives don’t voice, so it’s just baffling to see how this meme blames reporters for manipulating this comparatively sketchy narrative.
Putting aside claims about motives and narrative, on a fundamental level it’s simply not true that “the media” other than Fox News didn’t cover the story. If you only watch Fox News, then of course you’ll only see it on Fox News and nowhere else, but Snopes compiled links to numerous mainstream sources that did cover the story as it was breaking. (I’ve posted a screenshot of some of the coverage.)
In an item published several days after the murder, Snopes reported that Reuters, the New York Times, and the Washington post had not yet reported on the Cannon Hinnant killing.
It’s perfectly fair to question why those specific mainstream news organizations didn’t find this story newsworthy, but sadly there are about 40 murders per day in America (about 16,000 reported cases of “murder and non-negligent homicide” in 2018 so it just wouldn’t be possible to put every one of them in the headlines.
On the same day that Snopes published its item saying the Washington Post hadn’t covered the story, the Post actually published not one but two well-researched stories. One was a profile of the victim; the other was a news overview that included this paragraph:
“Soon after it was reported, Cannon’s story was seized upon by some conservative outlets as an example of what they view as selective outrage among the left and the mainstream media. Amid a national reckoning over racial injustice, they pushed the claim that the story was being ignored because of race: Cannon was White, while Sessoms is Black. Police have given no indication that race was a factor in the crime, which received coverage in national outlets including USA Today, Fox News and CNN within five days of occurring. Cannon’s father and grandmother have said they do not believe the killing was racially motivated.”
A suspect was identified that same day, and arrested the next day.
The Post notes “By Friday, the Wilson Police Department had offered only sparse details about the crime, with officials declining to answer questions from reporters. No motive has been released, and answers have eluded the family of the precocious boy, who they say loved Spider-Man, riding his bike and his camouflage Crocs.”
Without mass protests to report about, and without information from police reports reporters have less to report, other than routine criminal justice updates and a profile on the victim.
I can imagine an editor based in New York or Washington, when looking at all the possible stories to follow for a given day and recognizing that a finite number of reporters can only cover so many stories, might have a valid reason to ask their staff members to focus on some other more local story, rather than this particular story.
I can imagine subscribers writing well-argued letters to the editor criticizing the news judgement of editors on this case; I can imagine media supporters writing back with well-argued defenses; and I can imagine myself agreeing with some of their points and disagreeing with others.
Next week I’ll begin my journalism class by showing a video compilation of pundits, talking heads and TV comics laughing at the idea of Donald Trump being president, as a way of contextualizing the mistrust his followers have for the “mainstream media.” Part of what student journalists need to learn is how journalists deal with public reactions to their stories — both the ones who say they are burying an important story and others who say they are hyping a minor story to drive clicks; the ones who say journalists are unfairly critical of Trump, and others who say journalists are failing to do their job if they simply repeat any politician’s words without fact-checking them. (“Biased journalists will satisfy just one side. Ethical journalists will get attacked from both sides.”)
Whichever side you are on, bending the facts to suit your bias is not the same thing as showing a willingness to listen to and perhaps learn from people whose opinion differs from yours.