Many Horrific Crimes Don’t Make National Spotlight

Ted Diadiun, Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 20, 2007

Perhaps you have seen one of the e-mails that have been making the rounds lately, pertaining to the January rape and murder of a young Tennessee couple.

University of Tennessee student Channon Christian, 21, and her 23-year-old boyfriend, Christopher Newsom, were last seen by friends Jan. 6 in Knoxville as they left for a dinner date. Newsom’s burned body was found the next day near a railroad track. Christian was found the day after that, stuffed in a trash can. Both had been raped repeatedly. Five people have been arrested for the crimes and await trial.

More than a dozen e-mails have been sent to several Plain Dealer editors describing torture and mutilation in horrific detail and asking why this and other newspapers have not printed anything about this awful crime. Most of the e-mails carried accusations of “reverse racism”—the victims were both white, the alleged attackers were all black—saying that if the races had been reversed, this would have been a huge national story.

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It is not true that the story went unreported. The Knoxville News-Sentinel has covered the story extensively. The Associated Press moved at least a dozen stories about it—including five that were sent on the national wire and thus were available to any AP member paper.

But it didn’t appear in The Plain Dealer until yesterday, when we ran an AP story that summed up the complaints about the lack of national play.

The reason for that is straightforward: Regrettably, rapes and murders are committed around the country every day. While this one was horrible for the victims and their families, the early reports about the attack were not different enough to make editors think that it was a story our readers needed to read. And the details that have been on the blogs that would have made it a national story either haven’t been confirmed or have been denied by law enforcement officials.

The race-based complaints are an oversimplification.

Certainly, as some have alleged, if the races had been reversed and Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton had descended on Knoxville with their publicity machines, it would likely have become a national story.

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Some have pointed to the national furor that surrounded the false rape allegations by a black stripper against white members of the Duke lacrosse team. But the two situations defy comparison. The accusations in the Duke story were directed toward a privileged, organized college athletic team, not a group of neighborhood thugs, and it was as much about class difference as it was race difference.

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But it is wrongheaded and divisive to make race the central issue here. It takes more than the fact that the victims and villains were of different races to make this a racial issue. The Knoxville police chief said his investigators had found no evidence to indicate that the crime was race-based. Even Christian’s parents have said they do not believe it was a racial attack.

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The Knoxville case, which will now likely join those in the national spotlight, offers a pair of innocent, sympathetic victims for people to mourn, and five hoodlums for people to hate.

That ought to be enough, because there was no national media conspiracy to downplay the story, and no reason to expand our hatred from the attackers to their race.

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