Last Tuesday, three North Carolina students were shot dead. I learned of this news, as many of you likely did, through social media. I went in pursuit of more information about this #ChapelHillShooting, but my searches were met with more tweets and posts and with very few reports from news outlets.
Normally this would bother me; when I read things on social media, I can’t help but to take them with a grain of salt. However, this was an interesting case. There were articles — rather, mentions of the incident — but very few details were provided. Then I began noticing some disturbing patterns in the way the media was posting about it.
Most of what I read consisted of short headlines and tweets, maybe with a handful of particulars listed underneath. No possible motive was listed at first, but later reports have suggested that the conflict escalated as a result of a parking dispute between neighbors. All of these reports sidestepped the possibility of this being a hate crime perpetrated against three Muslims.
When you only have 140 characters to express your thoughts, a lot of time goes into semantics (or so we’d hope, especially from mainstream media. This same media clearly took their time, as most reports were not published until nearly a day after the incident occurred). There was a stark difference in how this triple-murder was described, compared to how other crimes often are.
For example, the gunman was a middle-aged white man, referred to as a “male” or some other nondescript word in the majority of the tweets I found. His actions were not sensationalized in any which way, though I’d wager if a Muslim or a member of another ostracized group had committed the same crime against a white person, they would be called a radical, or even a terrorist.
Violence and intimidation not connected to the pursuit of a political aim are still painted with the same broad brush as actual acts of terrorism by the media, especially when the criminal has a darker complexion than the people sitting in the boardrooms of these news corporations. I am not calling this crime an act of terrorism; however, I do wish to emphasize the nature by which certain groups are labeled and treated by the media.
These stereotypes are so ingrained within our media that the integrity of the news we see and hear is diminished. While I am a huge proponent of the use of social media as a platform for speech and assembly, I still rely on more traditional journalistic means to corroborate stories I find through these channels. No writing is going to be completely free of bias, but when it, implicitly or explicitly, is distorted into a sort of prejudice, it is time to reevaluate how we talk about things.
Privilege is abhorrent in the media at all levels. Not all groups of people are reported on equally, or with equal regard. Not all groups are represented in the newsroom as anchors or guests or writers. Not all groups are present in the workplace hierarchy. Media Matters released a report in April 2013 showing that nightly news networks were overwhelmingly white and male. This further enforces the need to use social media, to a reasonable extent, as a news-making force, especially within younger, more colorful communities.
Privilege: it’s a hard thing to talk about. I’m privileged in some respects, and you are too. The “beauty” of its multidimensionality is that it is something that everyone can and should address. Be aware of what it is, but don’t try to avoid it, or act as though you can wave a magic wand and somehow fix all of these problems. Racial, socioeconomic and religious privileges are just a few of its facets and all are incredibly prominent in our society today. They will take deep-rooted, systemic changes, but you don’t need to “champion” ending privilege.
Perhaps after all of this, you would not want to focus on the races or religions of the three victims or gunman in the Chapel Hill shootings. Even if you do not want to bring in cultural identifiers (which would point to this very likely being a hate crime), the mere fact that three students were shot near their own home should be reason enough for this to reported on. Furthermore — though I wish I didn’t have to actually say this — a dispute over a parking spot should never, ever lead to killing three innocent people.
So we are left here to think on privilege in the media, and how that clouds the news we receive on a day-to-day basis. Our thoughts are also with the three victims of the Chapel Hill shooting: Deah Barakat, 23; Yusor Abu-Salha, 21 and Razan Abu-Salha, 19. They are #OurThreeWinners.
Tithi Patel is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. Under the Veil appears every other Sunday on thehoya.com.