Do us a favor. Scratch that. Do yourself a favor. Google “estranged” plus “killer.” Or “estranged” and “murderer,” or “estranged” and “homicide.” What do you get? Depending on the time and place, you’ll probably discover more apologies for white folks who did bad things than you will find desperately impassioned sympathy for the families of people of color who got caught up in crime.
As all but the most ignorant Americans must acknowledge in the wake of mass public and school shootings from Connecticut to Colorado, Caucasian executioners get special treatment. Take Dylann Roof, the Neanderthal who allegedly fired on a church-full of racial minorities in South Carolina. Authorities handled the accused killer with kid gloves, damn near took him out for dinner and a rom-com. Even worse, the pattern of coverage after the shooting in Charleston was similar to that which has unfolded after massacres committed by Roof’s trigger-happy hillbilly contemporaries elsewhere, with the gunman’s mental stability immediately brought into question. Now go back to Google, and see how many articles you can find in which an alleged killer of color had their insanity defense staged by reporters before they even got a lawyer.
Here in Boston last week, we had a prime example of how cordial the media is toward the families of white suspects—even those who are accused of engineering an attack on the homefront inspired by ISIS! This particular story goes that 23-year-old Commonwealth native Alexander Ciccolo (aka Ali Al Amriki), son of Boston Police Department Captain Robert Ciccolo, was arrested for plotting violence and receiving firearms. It’s a tragedy, and only a monster could feel anything but badly for the Ciccolo clan for having to wrestle with their son’s illness. Nevertheless, we can use coverage of the incident as an example of the kind of compassion hacks should try displaying next time they consider a Latino or black murder suspect.
In the Ciccolo case, even respectable outlets like New York Magazine bent over backwards to exonerate the family in their headline (“Estranged Son of Boston Police Captain Arrested”), while the xenophobes at TownHall.com added a suggestive prefix for how readers should receive the news: “Scary: Estranged Son of Boston Police Captain Arrested.” And on, and on they parroted, from CBS (“The estranged son of a respected Boston police captain was arrested …”), to ABC affiliates (“Boston Police Captain’s Estranged Son Reportedly Arrested In FBI Terror Sting”), to the Berkshire Eagle, which squeezed their disclaimer into the first sentence: “Ciccolo is the estranged son of Boston Police Capt. Robert Ciccolo, a 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department, who first alerted …” One is led to believe that perps who aren’t rhetorically severed from their fam before the nutgraf are still living on the couch in their ancestral homes, their every fantasy endorsed by mom, dad, and siblings alike.
It wasn’t all reportorial refuse. A responsible and fascinating piece by David Boeri at WBUR addressed the wisdom, praised and considered to be borderline heroic by most other outlets, of Ciccolo reporting his son the feds:
Initial confinement to the facility is for up to three days, Natola explains, during which a physician conducts an examination. If the subject is deemed a danger, he or she can be committed for six months, and for one-year periods thereafter, if necessary. Because it is a civil matter, “they do not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard required in criminal cases,” Natola said.
In the case of Alexander Ciccolo, his father went to the FBI instead.
Of all the noise around the Ciccolo arrest, however, the sharpest analysis came not from a paid writer or critic, but rather from Rich Herbert, a resident of Pittsfield who blew local pundits clean out of the water in a letter published by the aforementioned Eagle. Among Herbert’s gems:
The New York Times referred to the incident as a “Terror Bomb Plot.” CBS News referred to it as an “ISIS-inspired terror plot.” ABC News reported on “the domestic threat post by ISIS.” They also claimed that the FBI found among his personal effects “jihad paperwork.” Apparently, even jihad isn’t free of bureaucracy. The reporting regarding Ciccolo’s “terrorist bomb plot” was almost entirely uniform, with some fringe exceptions.
Was this the beginning of ISIS in America, or a deeply troubled youth with a history of mental illness and no connection whatsoever to reality, let alone the Middle East? The readers should decide for themselves.
Sounds like good advice for journalists as well.
[Media Farm is wrangled by DigBoston News + Features Editor Chris Faraone]