Why isn't this being reported nationally?
May 8, 2007 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Regardless of the race of the victims and perpetrators (which IMO I don't think really has too much play in this story) why are the horrific murders of Christopher Newsom and Channon Christian not being reported nationally?

I was looking on snopes for something unrelated today, and found this newsbit. It got me thinking. What makes a story newsworthy? Not trying to get into newsdeathporn but one would think that this crime would at least be reported in print nationally. The Braunstein crime was nationally reported, and it was nowhere near as bad as this. One would assume that the media would love the impact this story would have. Perhaps it is too shocking? (hard to believe from most media outlets). The only thing I could think of is that it contains a homosexual rape as well, and it happened in Tennesee. Curious to hear what people think.
posted by Debaser626 to Media & Arts (27 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: chatfiltery - this isn't really what ask me is for.

Response by poster: Oh... and I don't buy snopes' explanation. The person who wrote that understands that most people would think it should be a national story, and had to address that fact.
posted by Debaser626 at 12:29 PM on May 8, 2007

Maybe all horrific murders are not reported nationally?
posted by mzurer at 12:38 PM on May 8, 2007

This is the column that started the emails. He's not arguing it should have been prominently reported because it was gruesome, but because it was a black-on-white hate crime.
posted by smackfu at 12:44 PM on May 8, 2007

Don't be hasty in considering the homosexual rape as contributing to the silence. Plenty of people in the media are perfectly happy presenting gay sex as an act of criminal brutality, especially when the character of the perpetrators is already established as "evil" due to their other crimes.
posted by hermitosis at 12:44 PM on May 8, 2007

This story reminds me of this, in terms of the depravity of the crime. Was it reported nationally? Echoing mzurer, I don't think all brutal crimes make it to the national press. Why that is, of course, is a different story.
posted by sneakin at 12:44 PM on May 8, 2007

This is total speculation, but could it be that the size of the media market where the event occurs plays into it? Something that happens in a top-10 market is maybe, all other things being equal, more likely to get national coverage?

Also, it seems that we're more likely to become obsessed with unsolved crimes...?

(Again, total speculation. I have no idea why this didn't get picked up.)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 12:46 PM on May 8, 2007

I think it could be because of the horrific nature of the crime is so extraordinary that it wouldn't allow viewers to detach themselves to the extent necessary to "enjoy" its reporting. Of course, all murders and rapes are bad, but maybe there's a point at which even die hard crime fans need to look away.
posted by Mavri at 12:46 PM on May 8, 2007

Well, I had a similar question, though in a case where the crime was unquestionably racially motivated. The MeFi thread and the MeTa it spawned were illuminating.
posted by Methylviolet at 12:51 PM on May 8, 2007

"One reason the networks haven't run this story "is because they can't fit it into a narrative of anything other than shock and horror, and you can find that in any crime story anywhere."

In addition, "the suspects are not still at large, so it won't fit into a 'this could happen to your child' kind of story," McBride said. And most importantly, she added, the crime was not perpetrated on a lone white female. The fact that she was accompanied by a man at the time of the attack was a factor.

"The crimes that make national news tend to be Elizabeth Smart [the 14-year-old girl who was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002], Natalee Holloway [the Alabama teenager who disappeared during her senior class trip to Aruba in 2005] -- that kind of story," she said."

This from crosswalk.com
posted by zeoslap at 12:51 PM on May 8, 2007

A) The premise is questionable, as you wouldn't know about the case if it wasn't being discussed nationally. Presumably, it's not being covered now because the crime took place in January. At that time, it presumably wasn't covered in national newspapers because it was a local crime.

B) There are 12,658 murders per year in the US. Unsurprisingly, most of them don't receive national attention.

C) The implied question is, "why does the hypocritical media make such a fuss about [the Duke scandal, Don Imus, insert pet cause here] but not pay attention to a case like this?" The answer is that there is no logic to the news. There is no good reason why the nation should particularly care what happens to Lacie Peterson or JonBenet Ramsey or O.J. Simpson or anyone else. Stories about celebrities or nationally-known institutions are always more popular than stories about regular people. Stories about Americans are more popular than stories about foreigners. Sometimes, a story just "has legs" and sometimes it doesn't.

D) They caught the guys who did this. There's no mystery, no "whodunnit" or "where did they go?" Beyond the titillation factor of the gruesome crime, what more is there to report?
posted by designbot at 12:53 PM on May 8, 2007

Obviously I don't imply that this one has anything to do with race -- but I do think crimes with a black-vs.-white racial component might be too hot to handle for a lot of people.
posted by Methylviolet at 12:55 PM on May 8, 2007

It should have been. I agree with you that race certainly wasn't why - it's not like news outlets are trampling one another to not report black male perpetrators of crimes.

That poor couple. I think the market theory is a good one. I looked over the events that were occurring during that time and didn't see anything that would have necessarily usurped coverage of this.

The A.P. has been all over it since day one, even though the local paper - the Knoxville News Sentinel - never carried a single article about the actual crime (unless it was print-only and not picked up online).
posted by cashman at 12:55 PM on May 8, 2007

I think there is only so much gore that people are able to stomach at dinnertime. The details are just too fucking awful for people to want to listen to. People complain already that the news is too depressing. Missing blond teens are okay; saying "child molestor" is doable; but the only purpose in reporting this crime nationally is to discuss the incredibly disturbing details. Is there really any purpose? To me, reporting on this nation ally would make the news akin to the movie Hostel - gore for shock value.

Think about Darfur - maybe part of the reason (besides Africa apathy/racism/etc.) that it isn't reported on is because the details are too gruesome for a lot of people to want to hear.
posted by gatorae at 1:01 PM on May 8, 2007

Well looking at the Knoxville News Sentinel's website, it looks like it was indeed reported on by them. It looks like they're picked up by google news, but their articles didn't show when I searched using Factiva. So perhaps there's some kind of problem with the Knoxville News-Sentinel being picked up by proprietary news searching databases?
posted by cashman at 1:01 PM on May 8, 2007

A search of "Channon Christian" in Lexis Nexis for the past 6 months yielded none of the Knoxville News-Sentinel's coverage either.

Perhaps other people can confirm this with searches. I think the media could have just been goofy enough to not report it, but perhaps if the main paper reporting on that area is "offline" essentially, the information does not get passed around and escalated enough, and as a result doesn't get the push to get reported nationally. What an awful act. This is just sickening.
posted by cashman at 1:06 PM on May 8, 2007

Lots of horrific murders are not reported.
posted by destro at 1:09 PM on May 8, 2007

Sounds like someone who's up in arms against the US "liberal media bias" wrote that email.
posted by loiseau at 1:10 PM on May 8, 2007

another local report
posted by destro at 1:12 PM on May 8, 2007

Fox News
News & Observer
Lexington Herald Reader

I also agree with the Snopes article that brutality is not the reason murders get echoed.
posted by destro at 1:18 PM on May 8, 2007

As others have said, contrary to the email linked on Snopes, cases of white victims (usually girls or women, particularly middle-class) with black assailants are actually far more likely to get coverage than in cases with black victims and either black or white assailants. I think it might very well be the homosexual rape-torture angle -- it doesn't fit into the mainstream press's paradigm of rape-torture (which is almost invariably linked solely to women being raped-tortured-murdered. For example, the Bob Berdella rape-torture-murders of men didn't receive the kind of coverage it probably would have if he'd been holding women captive.

Or maybe, more likely, there's just a certain saturation point for terrible crimes? For example, just last week L.A. just convicted its most prolific serial killer ever, and it's barely made a ripple in the local news -- probably in part because of the Phil Spector trial (and lesser celebrity criminal shenanigans, like goddam Paris Hilton), but also probably because both the perpetrator and all the victims were black (and many of them drug addicts and/or prostitutes).

But yeah, at the end of the day, there are horrible crimes everywhere -- not because we're having a violent crime upsurge in the U.S. (that is to say, we're not), but because it's a country of 300 million, with more than 10,000 murders every year. Terrible, unspeakable things happen every day. Even the most crime-saturated, "if it bleeds, it leads" media can't cover them all.
posted by scody at 1:18 PM on May 8, 2007

I would speculate that this hasn't garnered wider media attention because the facts that make this story sensational will be censored out of many outlets. I think your typical 6 o'clock news broadcast would shy away from mentioning details such as torture, urination, genital and breast mutilation, etc.

Without these details, the story becomes a (solved) double murder case.
posted by justkevin at 1:18 PM on May 8, 2007

maybe you should just post about the crime to metafilter proper? there isn't an answer anyone can really give you short of speculation.
posted by shmegegge at 1:22 PM on May 8, 2007

I live in Tennessee, but not Eastern Tennessee, and follow the news fairly religiously. I had not seen this story either, and I also find that highly curious.

It is true that lots of murders don't make CNN, but come on, this story is WAAAAAAAAAY out of the ordinary. Black on white homosexual rape murder kidnapping dungeon gang rape mutilation pissing poisoning murder????

There is a reason it didn't make national news. I am not privy as to what that reason is, perhaps one of the victims family is rich and powerful and pulled strings to prevent it being widely covered. Who knows.

But yes, dear reader, that story is enough to make any news editor in the world of 24 hours news suffer a mild heart palpitation. There should have been satellite trucks from all over the country, perhaps all over the world, in Knoxville reporting on the fine minutia of gore. Instead, not only was it not covered nationally, it wasn't really covered regionally.

There is indeed a reason why it was not. Just none of us are privy as to why.
posted by Ynoxas at 1:24 PM on May 8, 2007

Sick. Don't really know why it wasn't covered nationally. Shoulda been, if only to show that there is a lot more depravity out there than you think. These folks are gonna fry.
posted by MarshallPoe at 1:29 PM on May 8, 2007

Notice that FoxNews story didn't really go into much detail about what happened to the victims. It didn't mention that the guy was raped.
posted by thirteenkiller at 1:37 PM on May 8, 2007

I think the two biggest factors keeping this story off the national stage have already been said:

1) Murders, even gruesome double murders, are not uncommon enough to warrant automatic national coverage.

2) The criminals were caught.

I actually think the second element is more important. If the cops had only managed to arrest a couple of these people, but had then started a manhunt for the others - I don't have any doubt that this story would have been front page news coast to coast.

We may hear more about this story later if one or more of these defendants is given the death penalty.
posted by thewittyname at 2:05 PM on May 8, 2007

Google News for "double murder" OR "double homicide" reveals any number of recent instances which are reported only in local news sources and not garnering national media attention.

In fairness, not all of the results from Google News are of recent incidents - there's plenty about the prosecution of double murder suspects from earlier attacks - but there's enough to make the point.

And if you want to point to the brutality and depravity of the Newsom/Christian murders, should that really matter? Is a swift and painless double murder any less newsworthy? (I suppose if your only journalistic standard is "how rare is this event," it would be.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:05 PM on May 8, 2007

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