Why the mainstream media
doesn’t care about the murder of gay teens

Written by FCJ Editor. Posted in Culture, News

Tagged: , , , , ,

Published on February 27, 2008 with 5 Comments

By Tanene Allison

February 27, 2008

Lawrence “Larry” King was shot to death and the media thought that you didn’t need to know about it.

Larry, as you might have now learned, was fifteen and in his junior high school computer lab when Brandon McInerney, 14, followed through on a previously declared threat and shot King.

The mainstream media apparently didn’t think that you needed to know that King had recently come out as gay and had started to wear lipstick, mascara, earrings, and a pair of particularly fierce high heeled boots.

The first LA Times article on the shooting made no reference to Larry’s sexual orientation, or his manner of dress. When the mainstream media first reported the murder, it was stated that the violence stemmed from a “personal dispute” between the two boys. In contrast, ten years ago, the first AP story on Matthew Sheppard’s assault included information about his sexual orientation, a fact that had played a role in his victim status.

Youth groups across the country began holding marches in King’s honor. Details of his death was spread virally on youth-dominated, Facebook. Queer media outlets bubbled over with coverage of the story. The mainstream media remained silent.

Only now, two weeks after King’s murder, is the mainstream media providing coverage of the story. All of those who did not cover the story when it was, well, news, are now covering how it was a story no one else covered either.

Anderson Cooper, wrote in his blog:

“Tonight… we are focusing on a story that hasn’t received the attention it deserves…According to many accounts, he had been bullied repeatedly, and some parents have even claimed students knew of threats to Lawrence’s life. At this point it doesn’t seem clear how much school officials knew of the bullying, but a full investigation needs to be done. If this had been an African-American student bullied by a teenage skinhead, would it have received more attention?

“Would school officials have taken it more seriously if it had been a Christian campus leader attacked by another student because of his/her religious beliefs? I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I do think they are worth asking.”

All good questions, and I’m grateful they’re being asked, but where was Cooper two weeks ago?

Not that Cooper is alone in his delay. It took the two Democratic candidates for President thirteen days to release comments on King’s death.

The New York Times took four days before running an AP snippet on the murder, and eleven days before they wrote their first story.

MTV News, a leader in coverage of youth issues, ran its first story on King nine days after the murder.

You get the idea.

I bring this all up because these are indeed questions to which there are no easy answers. It is not a new concept that violence against the queer community is often seen as a non-story.

And yet, despite temptation to declare this mainstream silence as a blatant expression of homophobia, I believe it’s more complicated than just that.

As a journalist who presently works in a position where it is my job to notice civil rights stories the media is ignoring, and to seek appropriate coverage, this case particularly stood out for me.

Despite my daily intake of large amounts of newsfeeds, I also first learned of this story via a friend’s Facebook post. Although this particular story falls outside of the purview of my job, I began emailing various journalist friends to figure out what was going on with their silence. These email exchanges quickly produced no real answers.

In an exchange with one of my most queer-friendly, mainstream media pals, no answers were found to the question of the silence. It was almost as if the institutional hindrances to seeing this as a story were so thick that they were impossible to define.

I asked my journalist source why the story hadn’t received the coverage it deserves. She said she didn’t really know, but likely the large shooting outside of Chicago was simply seen as a larger story. I pointed out that King was shot and two news cycles went by before the Illinois shooting. I pointed out that it was hard not to see shades of homophobia in the media not seeing King’s death as a big story. She wrote back that a boy wearing women’s clothing is exactly the type of thing the media would love to make a story out of. I replied that regardless of that assumption, the lack of coverage would say otherwise. This went on for a number of rounds.

Our exchange ended with her agreeing to research the story a bit more, and with her asking if I had contacts for King’s friends and family. I had to point out that I wasn’t inquiring to pitch her for my work; that I was merely an upset citizen, trying to make sense of the silence.

Her news organization took days more before they ran their first piece of coverage.

That “Mainstream Media” is made up of endless such folks, people who cared about the story, who engaged in private exchanges about it. And yet, and yet, the coverage remained absent.

I believe that we know the answer to Anderson Cooper’s questions. Yes. Yes, the death of Queer folks earns less mainstream outrage. (Has anyone heard of Simmie “Beyonce” Williams Jr.? Another feminine dressing, out-as-gay, young male of color, who was murdered this last weekend? Or Senesha Steward, who was killed in early February? It also deserves to be examined what role the races of these youth played in the lack of coverage their murders were given.)

Yes, such crimes tend to be taken less seriously.

What I don’t know is why. Why the impenetrable silence on this story, when reporters in numerous organizations agree that it was always a story worth covering? And perhaps even more bizarrely, why the sudden onrush of belated coverage? Why is it now popular for the mainstream media to cover how unpopular it was for the mainstream media to cover King’s death in the weeks after it first occurred?

Lawrence King is dead. And were it not for groups of hurt and angry young people, none of us may have ever heard King’s name.

Whether the mainstream media agrees or not, that fact is something worth our attention.


Comments for Why the mainstream media
doesn’t care about the murder of gay teens
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  1. I’ve been an out Lesbian and now a fairly closeted FTM. When I was more actively transitioning, I found a shocking hatred, that I hadn’t been used to before. Reminicent of a gay pride march I was in, where a church openly attacked us, throwing eggs and words. I attended a vigil for Larry King last nite and I asked these same questions, “why” didn’t I know about this? My lesbian partner and I were trying to understand. One thing we wondered; who controls the media? Have so many sources of news combined, that it is all vanilla now? Or, is it the hierarchy of need; Maslow from our psych classes; this theory that talked about basics. Is it that, our culture is so focused on bread and gas and Iraq and Bush that there’s no room?
    I don’t know. I think it’s a little of all of this…phobia and numbness combined. My heart cries for Larry, his friends and family and for Brandon too….and for us. I think of horton hears a who…”we are here we are here”, I think of Harvey Milk who once said we all need to come out, but how can we? Is this to keep us in the closet? Is it to ignore us is to closet us?

  2. The boy was Gay. OK maybe you feel that was the only reason he was killed. I happen to think it goes much deeper than that.

    The fact that this other boy had the feeling he could solve his problems by killing another human being. I believe this boy could have killed anyone, Gay or not.

    I,m sorry if my position is offensive to you. Its not my intent. I do feel that Homosexuality is being pushed as an alternative normal lifestyle. Kids should be taught more important things in school. Pedophilia are adult homosexual men who happen to like children. So is this an alternative?

    Its tough enough for kids who have heterosexual feelings. Theirs is a journey of self discovery. rejection, acceptance, rejection, betrayal,acceptance…. For kids who have been indoctrinated to an alternative. They have a whole new set of rejection issues.

    Why is it that his sexuality was brought up? If a boy kills his girlfriend because she cheated on him, is her promiscuity an issue?

    You are closer to the issue than I am. I am in noways making light of what happened. It was terrible. and for all the kids who died at school shootings, this is no less tragic, because someone could not cope properly. His being Homosexual may have triggered something that was already manifesting itself within this kid who did the shooting. Was he molested or Sodomized? He warned Lawrence to leave him alone.

    I just think Ellen Degeneras contradicts herself when she says she doe,nt want to politicize it. She makes it into an issue about Gay lifestyle and oppression.

    Its not about Gay lifestyle. Hate is hate.

  3. . . . from the Illinois House of Representatives


    February 27, 2008 State Rep. Greg Harris

    (773) 348-3434


    Rep. Harris’ Statement in Response to the Murder of Lawrence King

    15 year-old victim attacked due to his sexual orientation

    CHICAGO – I am gravely concerned about senseless acts of violence occurring across our nation. On February 12th of this year, 15 year old Lawrence King of Oxnard California was murdered by a classmate while in his school’s computer lab.

    Lawrence King was not a victim of the kind of random violence that has become prevalent in our nation’s schools, most recently at Northern Illinois University in my home state of Illinois; rather he was targeted because he was openly gay. He was not harming anyone, he was not threatening anyone; he was killed because he had the courage to be himself.

    I am outraged by this act of classroom violence and wish to make clear that intending harm against people based on their sexual orientation is, without exception, completely and totally unacceptable, as are attacks based on religion, race, ethnicity, gender or any personal characteristic. Members of the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transsexual and questioning community deserve to live their lives proudly without fear of being victimized by these despicable acts of targeted violence. I urge my colleagues across the nation to join me in condemning this act of disturbing brutality

  4. February 25, 2008 BY NEIL STEINBERG Sun-TimesColumnist Why hast thou forsaken him? A reader inquires why no one in Chicago has yet written aboutLawrence King, the Oxnard, Calif., boy who was murdered two weeks ago forthe crime of being gay. King, 15, had begun sometimes coming to class wearing makeup, acapital offense in the view of 14-year-old Brandon McInerney, who,according to police in the town north of Malibu, strode into their middleschool computer lab Feb. 12 and shot King in the head in front of twodozen classmates. “Where’s the moral outrage?” asks reader Bob Zuley, who answershis own question: “This hateful behavior is learned by a society thatcondones homophobia expressed through families that practice bigotry,churches and schools that practice exclusion, and national leaders thatfight to prevent equality and acceptance.” Sounds right to me. But is that the complete answer? One couldonce count on Chicago’s active gay community to raise an outcry oversuch matters, but they have gone quiet in recent years. I’m mystifiedas to why — perhaps the reduced lethality of the AIDS crisis haslowered the flame under gay social activism. Perhaps gays have growncomfortable and secure — a tad prematurely, perhaps, given crimes such as theone against King. Perhaps their voices are lost in the swelling informational cacophony. Religious groups are another matter. They’re always going on howthey love the sinner while loathing the sin. That said, and given how religion is responsible for much of the vacant faux moralblather that underlies hatred of gays, you’d think they’d step up after casessuch as King’s with the bold pronouncement that, vile as the sin of homosexuality is, you shouldn’t murder gays, at least not whilethey are still children. We seem to expect the entire Muslim community torise as one and publicly denounce every act committed in their faith’sname anywhere in the world. Why shouldn’t our home-grown faiths take responsibility for the fruit of their efforts? Typically, condemnation for a crime falls upon the criminal. Butwhen that criminal is a child, it is easier to see the hand ofsociety at work. Lawrence King died for your sins.

  5. As a member of the MSM also, and as someone who did not hear about the story until it appeared in the magazine that I work for, I think the response time lagged for a couple of reasons, none of them involving homophobia.

    1) King is a racial/ethnic minority.

    Racial/ethnic minorities do not attract the MSM’s attention as much as attractive white people do, period.

    Race/perceived race/nationality, I believe, trump homophobia in the newsroom in terms of attracting coverage.

    Look at all the young Latinas and Asian and black women who were pregnant and killed by lovers during the time that Lacy Peterson was big, big news (like every week/day news). They were all ignored, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Minority women (gay, straight, bi, etc), transwomen and teenaged girls are always ignored when they go missing like Natalee Holloway.

    I am convinced this had more to do with Lawrence King’s race than with his sexuality/gender identity. Newsrooms in the mainstream media are almost completely devoid of ethnic-looking Spanish-speaking Americans and other minority groups in this country, so when they’re looking for a story, the editors are looking for a story about themselves. Period. This is obviously a problem, but it’s a negligence problem, not malicious avoidance.

    I know that in my newsroom, there are a lot of people looking and searching specifically for stories about people in the queer/two spirit communities. Myself included. We are on a personal as well as an editorial mission to broaden our scope and to get our own community represented.

    2) His family situation is complicated. He was a ward of the state.

    When you have a child killed that was in foster care, there are a number of legal difficulties to writing a story about that child. End of story.

    I’m sure that this took a lot of time to work through. And that may have had some effect on the way it was reported initially.

    For instance, after the shooting, it became clear to most observers that it was a hate crime. But you’re dealing with a suspect who is a minor, who is not convicted or even charged. You cannot say that he “committed a hate crime” or that it is “an apparent hate crime.” Your sources in the police department can say that, but to print it, is slander until the DA charges him with a hate crime. Until someone is charged, you can’t speculate on the motive. Until someone is convicted, you cannot say that they “committed” anything.

    There are a lot of legal and logistical things that go on in mainstream newsrooms that the blogging and online community do not have to deal with.

    Whether they turn out to be positive hurdles or negative hurdles has yet to be determined and is the subject of much debate (ie. how do we get the story in the book as fast as possible without putting ourselves in a legally risky position? How do we report out a story that involves speculation and underage criminality and a legal guardianship that respects privacy?)

    Before blaming the MSM for being slow in its response due to something as charged as homophobia or outright racism, think about other possibilities of unintentional negligence (never a good thing, I admit), legal difficulties and barriers to finding out information.

    Blogs can print speculation. The Wall Street Journal cannot.