Critics Say News Media Ignoring Knoxville Couple Slaying

AP, May 18, 2007

Bloggers and media critics are complaining that the national media has ignored the rape and murder of a young Knoxville couple because of the racial implications of the story.

Channon Christian, a 21-year-old University of Tennessee student, and her boyfriend, Christopher Newsom, 23, were raped, tortured and killed in January. Separate trial dates were set Thursday for four people charged in the slayings.

Online critics have angrily insisted that reporters are ignoring the story because the victims are white and the defendants are black.

“I am not going to call it reverse racism,” said country singer Charlie Daniels, who has written on his Web page about how little he has heard of the case in Nashville, about 150 miles west of Knoxville. “But I will say it is very selective (journalism).

“There are probably not five stories in the country that could possibly have been more important than that one during the time it was going on,” he said. “It is totally, completely unfair to the memory of these young people not to inform people about what happened to them.”

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Web sites describe gruesome details that are not in the public record.

Lemaricus Davidson, 25; his brother, Letalvis Cobbins, 24; and George Thomas, 24, were indicted on 46 counts, including first-degree murder. Cobbins’ former girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, 18, was indicted on 40 counts, also including murder. Some have implicated others in statements to police, but it remains unclear what prompted the crimes.

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Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner on Thursday set anticipated two-week trials for each of them in 2008, beginning with Cobbins on May 12, Coleman on June 16, Davidson on July 14 and Thomas on Aug. 11.

Prosecutors have yet to say if they will seek the death penalty.

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Angry bloggers have drawn comparisons to the Duke lacrosse rape case and wondered why the Newsom-Christian slaying hasn’t gotten the same media attention. “Oh, that’s right, the victims were WHITE!” wrote one.

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Ted Gest, president of the Criminal Justice Journalists group, a national organization of journalists who cover crime, court and prison beats, said interracial crime tends to get more coverage than when the criminal and victim are of the same race.

“But I can’t say that this one would have had any more coverage if five whites had been accused of doing these things to two blacks, absent a blatant racial motive,” he said. “As bad as this crime is, the apparent absence of any interest group involvement or any other ‘angle’ might also explain the lack of coverage.”

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