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Will Media Report FL Shooting As Gender-Based Hate Crime?

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

June 8th, 2010

It happened again. Another violent guy shot and killed his wife — and went on to gun down six other women unfortunate enough to be in his path before committing suicide. Four women are now dead; three others are in critical condition. And some media outlets (such as the AP story on Yahoo! News, “5 dead after shooting in Miami-area restaurant,”) are still failing to report this as a gender-based hate crime… echoing previous journalistic failures.

This time it was Gerardo Regalado, half-brother of former baseball star Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, and the crime took place in South Florida. Last year it was George Sodini in Collier County, PA, who opened fire in an all-female aerobics class in an act of misguided revenge for a sexually frustrated existence. Before that, it was Cho Seung-Hui, the mentally unstable stalker of women at Virginia Tech, who ended up being responsible for the worst school shooting in U.S. history. In 2006, it was the school shootings in Amish country and in Colorado’s Platte Canyon. And in 1998, it was the murder of four elementary school girls and their female teacher in Jonesboro, AR.

I am sick to death that I have to keep writing some version of this same article or blog post on loop. But I have to, because in all of these cases, gender-based violence lies at the heart of these crimes — and leaving this motivating factor uninvestigated not only deprives the public of the full, accurate picture of the events at hand, but leave us without the analysis and context needed to understand the violence, recognize warning signs, and take steps to prevent similar massacres in the future.

There are signs that some outlets are getting it a little more than they have in the past. Despite the problematic AP/Yahoo! story mentioned above, a second AP piece makes this connection crystal clear: “Police: Gunman kills 4 women but doesn’t shoot men.” This headline (picked up by Yahoo!, The Miami Herald and The Houston Chronicle, among others) is based on a statement from a cop at the scene, who said that “He went straight for the women.” Where this comment was buried as a throw-away in the first story, it appears as the first quote in this piece. While the AP doesn’t call this a hate crime or include any comments from experts in gender-based violence, the placement of this police statement coupled with the more specific headline help to emphasize the nature of these murders. The Globe And Mail used this detective’s quote as a subhead to further emphasize its significance (”Gunman kills wife, three women in South Florida restaurant; ‘He went straight for the women,’ detective says”). And, of course, feminist bloggers have gotten it right, including Anna N. at Jezebel and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux at Care2’s Women’s Rights blog.

Other outlets, unfortunately, don’t see the all-female breakdown of Regalado’s victims as worthy of analysis. Erasing gender from its headline (”Florida restaurant shooting leaves 4 dead, 3 wounded”), CNN reported matter-of-factly that the victims were all women, some of whom were simply in the wrong place in the wrong time (gee, thanks), but didn’t see this as worthy of discussion.

Worse still, some outlets picked up the AP’s second story, but replaced the unusually frank headline (”Police: Gunman kills 4 women but doesn’t shoot men”) with alternatives that explicitly dropped the gender-based violence connection. To the New York Post, the celebrity sports angle was of much higher import: “Report: Florida gunman who killed 4 women is half brother of ex-Yankee ‘El Duque.’” ESPN preferred the generic “Gunman kills four, commits suicide.” If it’s bad enough that American media have consistently missed the mark when reporting on gender-based hate crimes, it’s inexcusable that when finally presented with a wire story headline that gets it right, some outlets would actively choose to make invisible the gendered nature of the violence.

Women In Media & News urges reporters, editors, headline writers and news commentators to properly contextualize Gerardo Regalado’s murder of four women and potentially critical injury of three other women. To contact WIMN for comment, email info[at]wimnonline.org or call 347-564-5190.

Why is it crucial for media to report these kinds of murders as gender-based hate crimes? To answer that, I’ll just direct you to what I wrote in this space after the Sodini murders last summer:

Once more with feeling: Media Must Report Gender Motivation for Mass Shootings
Jennifer L. Pozner
WIMN’s Voices, August 5, 2009

A health club in Collier County, PA this week was the site of yet another horrific mass shooting by yet another disaffected man armed with ammo and a deep hatred of women. The shooter specifically targeted women, reportedly firing 52 shots, killing three women and injuring nine more before committing suicide.

Today, the Associated Press’s Genaro C. Armas reports that the alleged shooter, George Sodini, maintained a website detailing his desire –and plans — to kill women. The calculated nature of the crime, and the gunman’s stated intention to target only women, is eerily similar to the Montreal Massacre of 1989, in which a man opened fire on students after screaming, “You’re women, you’re going to be engineers. You’re all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists.”

Perhaps it takes this level of hit-us-over-the-head bluntness for media to notice that a mass murder is also a hate crime, when the victims of that crime are solely women. In contrast to many other shootings in which similar motivations have gone unreported over the past two decades, the AP (and several other news outlets picking up Armas’s story) have chosen to discuss the extremely relevant role of misogyny as the root cause of the bloody tragedy in Collier County.

According to the Editor & Publisher blog, Sodini’s website also contained slams against “the liberal media,” Obama, the election of “The Black Man,” and jokes about black men and white women. E&P notes that the AP and other outlets have omitted these details. Had Sodini aimed his guns specifically and only at people of color, ignoring information about his bigotry would not only be racist, it would also deprive the public of a full understanding of the nature of his crime. But while his racist webpages certainly add a fuller picture to this disturbed killer’s mindset, in this case the AP discussed the part of the website most relevant to the crime: Sodini’s anger at being sexually rejected, his deep-seated resentment toward women, and his stated plans to kill women.

So, finally, a gender-based hate crime is being reported (at least by the AP, at least for now) within the context of the killer’s actual anti-woman agenda. It’s an important step forward in media understanding of and coverage of this sort of crime. But if the press’s previous track record is any indicator, Sodini’s misogyny could potentially fall out of the frame of follow-up reporting.

Since such context has been woefully missing from most corporate media coverage of mass shootings over the last two decades, WIMN’s Voices would like to offer some helpful history from the WayBack machine:

From Jonesboro to Virginia Tech - sexism is fatal, but media miss the story
***This includes a discussion of the sexist underpinnings of the murders at Virginia Tech in 2007, and a full reprint of “Jonesboro: Sexism Kills Girls,” May, 1998, Sojourner: The Women’s Forum

Also potentially of interest:

video and transcript of my Fox’s Hannity & Colmes debate about the gender-based aspect of the Virginia Tech shootings and similar crimes over many years.

Women In Media & News urges reporters, editors, news anchors, analysts, commentary writers, pundits and bloggers to keep the spotlight on the dangerous implications of Sodini’s sexism whenever the PA shooting is discussed. More broadly, we encourage media to report this crime within the context of the prevalence of gun violence against women and girls, and the fact that sexism has been the (largely unexamined) motivation behind a great many of the mass shootings we’ve seen in the last two decades.

For additional comment from WIMN, email info[at]wimnonline[dot]org, or call 347-564-5190 during normal business hours.

One Response to “Will Media Report FL Shooting As Gender-Based Hate Crime?”

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