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Evanson: Racial bias in coverage of Kentucky riots

BY KEITH EVANSON | APRIL 09, 2015 5:00 AM

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As the intense rush of the NCAA March Madness comes to an abrupt end — the peaceful, early days of April bring in America’s favorite pastime as well as rumblings of upcoming playoff hockey — often overlooked is what happens in the aftermath of all the chaos erupting from college-basketball results.

Fans rioted in the campus streets of Lexington, Kentucky, after Kentucky lost to Wisconsin in the semifinal game, ending the Wildcats’ undefeated season. Huge mobs of people took to the streets, and 31 people were arrested for various crimes, including disorderly conduct and public intoxication. Postapocalyptic-like scenes consisting of hundreds of people burning couches, lawn chairs, and T-shirts, the flames twirling dangerously close to open containers of liquor all came to my attention on the timeline of my Twitter feed.

I looked that night and the next morning and didn’t see any coverage of the riots that happened on TV. Pundits at neither Fox News nor CNN had bothered to mention it in their selection of topics already too dominated by 2016 presidential-election coverage.

But remember last November? Riots were what all these news channels were talking about then. All across their array of news channels, unanimous condemnation for the residents of Ferguson, Missouri, were had for their rioting and looting in the aftermath of the non-indictment of police Officer Darren Wilson.

One riot was caused by the result of a basketball game, the other one fueled by systemic racism that had been interwoven overtly through a criminal-justice system that appeared to have no justice at all.

Before my comparison gets labeled “apples to oranges,” consider this: This isn’t the first time riots in Lexington have happened. As recently as 2012, an estimated 15,000 residents took the streets to riot after the Wildcats won the NCAA Tournament. Dozens of people were arrested, and nearly a dozen people had to be sent to the hospital for injuries. Cars were flipped over, and one person fired a gun several times among the swarming crowds.

So not only is this an issue that even when isolated is a prominent event in U.S. news, but it’s a recurring problem involving select sports fans in the same exact city in similar circumstances. But these fans are let off the hook by media outlets. The rioters at sports riots aren’t labeled “thugs” by Mike Huckabee at Fox News. There was no sight of CNN’s Don Lemon reporting that “obviously, there’s a smell of marijuana here as well” on the campus that night.

Why is there such a contrast in media coverage? In all facets of news there exists a fundamental responsibility by editors to not only select what news will be presented but also how it is to be portrayed. Just a “bunch of college kids getting too wild” is how riots after sporting events are pronounced.

If you want an answer to why this is, take a look at the racial and economic demographics of both Lexington and Ferguson.


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