Brown: Media narratives shaping our social climate

BY MARCUS BROWN | JUNE 25, 2015 5:00 AM

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On June 12, there was a fatal shooting in the Coralville Ridge Mall, resulting in the death of Andrea Farrington, allegedly at the hands of 22-year-old Alexander Kozak, a mall security guard at the time. Details surrounding the motivation for the shooting have been vague at best, with a pronounced apprehension toward labeling the act an example of gender-based crime. 

We can only speculate on Kozak’s motives given that officials have thus far refused to state a motivation for the crime, leaving members of the public to extrapolate their own account based on floating rumors. 

The rumors surrounding the homicide vary with Farrington’s accusations of sexual harassment against Kozak and whether that played a role in Kozak's’ decision to return to the mall later that day to allegedly shoot her. At this point, we cannot say definitively what prompted Kozak to make the decisions that he reportedly did, but this case does highlight a larger issue in the way acts of violence are portrayed in the media. 

I can’t help but notice that there has been alarming pattern in the way the killers and their victims are portrayed in the media in the aftermath of horrible crimes. This is an issue that extends far beyond any specific subsection of crime and is more of an issue of how media outlets can at times display very obvious examples of skewed perspectives. 

In these instances, reporting becomes less about dictating the actual events of a crime, and instead painting a warped narrative that aligns better with their subconscious biases. In the example of the Coral Ridge shooting, I have noticed a seemingly deliberate effort not to label this shooting an act in which gender is an important issue. 

Of course, one can make the argument that it would be bad reporting because all of the facts have yet to come to light, which would draw people to make unfair assumptions. However, I would argue that if this were the shooting of an unarmed African-American man who hadn’t committed a crime, we would look at his possible prison record coupled with the most threatening picture ever taken of him before the bullets in him even had time to cool. 

So, I would ask where is this newfound fear of generalization and assumptions stemming from?  I would point to the recent case of the terrorist Dylann Roof in South Carolina, which was misnamed by a certain conservative news outlet as an “attack on faith” despite the killer himself admitting racial motivations for the killing of nine African-Americans inside the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  

This type of subtle narrative crafting is so prevalent at times we have trouble with distinguishing victim from killer. I am referring to the common characterization of white mass murders as quiet, withdrawn, and misunderstood individuals suffering from some anomaly lapse of judgment that results in the death of innocent individuals, and the victims of police shootings as hardened criminals shot dead before they could commit their latest act of crime. 

This is even present in the articles covering the Coral Ridge shooting with one article in particular mentioning how Kozak “participated in choir” and “his plans after high school included working at McDonald’s and attending community college,” as if these little tidbits are somehow relevant to the coverage of a homicide story. 

Although I may never know with certainty the true motivations behind every horrible act that makes news, I could certainly do without the media’s attempt to humanize killers and vilify innocent victims. News reporting should be about the truth, and any attempt to manipulate or obscure the truth is a disservice to the general public and the credibility of the journalistic institution disseminating the information.

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