Is it Racism? Why did we Ignore New Orleans but obsess about Boston?

I got back from my trip to Baghdad on Sunday evening, and noticed when I checked the news that there seemed to have been a horrible shooting in New Orleans. I was jet-lagged and crashed before I could look into it. I remember thinking, oh, well,it will dominate the news cycle on Monday and I’ll find out what happened.

Then… nothing.

I went back to the internet news on Monday to make sure I hadn’t been having a nightmare. But, nope, the story was real.

The Associated Press did a story on it Tuesday evening, which I had to get from Youtube:

No offense– I’m grateful to the reporters who bothered — but an interview with a family member of a victim, with a local African-American, would have been helpful. Do stories have to be told by white people to get a hearing?

“Ten men, seven women and a girl and a boy, both 10 years old, were shot,” Reuters says.

The main suspect announced by the police is a young African-American man of 19, Akein Scott.

The victims were in the ‘second line,’ following the formal Mother’s Day parade– these are just ordinary folk following the parade and dancing in the streets.

So why was the New Orleans shooting not news on America’s mass media? Oh, it was mentioned briefly. But the television news editors didn’t order reporters to fly out there, and there wasn’t the wall to wall coverage that mass shootings typically (and unfortunately) produce on American so-called news channels.

One possible answer is that the shooting was not put under the sign of ‘terrorism’ by the FBI, but of ‘crime.’ But what kind of ‘crime’ is randomly shooting down people in a parade? Crime is done for profit. I haven’t seen any precise motive attributed to Scott (or his possible alleged accomplices). People don’t shoot for no reason. What was his motive?

Moreover, why privilege a vague category like ‘terrorism’ as a national obsession? Why not speak instead of the horrors of people being terrorized by violence and guns? Do the New Orleans victims somehow not feel quite as bad as those in Boston?

And, why didn’t anyone point out the shame of the Senate’s inaction on gun control in the light of what cities such as New Orleans are suffering? Did Akein get his gun for deer hunting purposes?

Another possible answer is, frankly, racism. We know that the cable news channels have a long history of sensationalizing the disappearances and murders of young blonde white women, but that African-American women seem to be able to go missing regularly without the news anchors much noticing.

Is New Orleans being written off as an African-American cauldron of senseless violence?

It is true that Akein Scott is not as exotic as the Tsarnaev brothers. But are they really so different? Scott (who is only accused, not convicted) may have been part of an organized gang, whereas it is still unclear that the Tsarnaevs were anything more than loners and in their uncle’s words, ‘losers.’ Scott as the representative of a phenomenon is far more troubling for American society. There are only like 600 Chechens in the US, and most are perfectly well adjusted Americans. One in three African-American men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. They are profiled, more likely to be searched when stopped, more likely to be convicted, given longer terms for the same crimes, and if juveniles much more likely to be charged as adults, when compared to whites. Over 5 million African-American men have been disenfranchised, unable to vote or run for office, as a result of a felony conviction– a shame for a country calling itself a ‘democracy.’

So wall to wall coverage of the shootings in New Orleans would be far more pertinent to far more Americans and their actual social problems than the fetishization of foreign terrorism.

I don’t really know the answer as to why the New Orleans shootings were an item but not a story in American mass media. I do know that some silences are eloquent of social pathologies, and tell us as much as loud conversations do.

27 Responses

  1. Not racism, but maybe another kind of bias. Guns vs bombs. Shootings happen all the time in the US. Tragic but very common, so they don’t get as much press.

    • Steve Stein.
      “Guns vs bombs. Shootings happen all the time in the US.”

      If shootings are the norm in the US, then why after every school shooting so much news coverage for days?

      With your logic, if there would have been shooing by guns in Boston instead of bombing, do you think the news coverage would have been like Mothers day shooting in New Orleans?

      I don’t think so. Western news media’s bias is seen so often in their coverage. Their choice of words, description of events is as evident as black & white color.

      • The bias likely has a lot to do with the fact that no-one, thankfully, died in this scenario.

  2. I think a major issue is bombing the Boston Marathon—a very iconic event—vs. shooting up a New Orleans Mother’s Day parade that no one had ever heard of. That said, I do think there is a tinge of racism here.

  3. There is actually a certain racial element behind this. There’s this idea that black lives are worth less than Caucasian lives (shown throughout history by the way).

    But I’m wondering, does the fact that NOLA has a lot of gun crime have anything to do with ‘silence’ too?

  4. I had some thoughts on the article about ‘racism’ provided by Informed Comment and written by Anne-Ruth Wertheim. It’s not just about different ‘races’ (after all, there is one ‘race,’ the Human race). It may be true that there are innumerable instances of Europeans going to other nations and subjugating the indigenous, giving rise to the perception of ‘race’ inequality simply because the Europeans (and their derivatives) have certain standards of living that are ingrained in their cultures or adopted after they understand the opportunities for acquiring an appearance of superiority once they can take advantage of other nations’ seeming inferiority.
    If we choose a country to observe, we can look at the historical British who have been known to venture forth from their little island to seek fame and fortune in other parts of the World, on Crusades throughout the centuries. But, at home, their attitudes are not much different except that it’s not as exciting or exotic as Calcutta or Baghdad or Cairo or anywhere that stimulated the imaginations of generations past. One might look simply at Christie’s Hercule Poirot, a Belgian expatriate who lived in Jolly Olde England and served to solve crimes among the upper crust as described by his chronicler. While the settings were indeed among the affluent and otherwise posh segment of society, one merely has to look at the supporting cast to see that ‘racism’ doesn’t exist as much as the differentiation of classes, those supporting the main characters who are cleaning, cooking, gardening, and doing other mundane chores to make the gentlemen and ladies of the manor look ever brilliant. When taken abroad, the same standards are imposed on the locals, perhaps with senses of frustration in that the Indians or Iraqis or Egyptians or whohaveyou haven’t had the same breeding as the homogeneous Brits.
    Ergo, a certain sense of frustration emerges, revealed in the locals’ treatment and care, their ‘races’ only important as a person’s title or rank might be among the Crusaders, ‘race’ being an obvious and convenient way of differentiation. And, of course, when we note the lower classes of the imperialists, those who would seek to emulate their masters and mistresses, we observe an even more pronounced sense of frustration, compounded by the lack of social standing and education along with an inability to get their ‘employees’ to adequately participate in the charade.
    The difference between Boston and N’Orleans can be seen in a similar light, accentuated by the fact that Boston was overtly about ‘race:’ it was a marathon, the participants of which have so much free time to be able to train and condition their bodies for a grueling two, three, or four hour race of over 26 miles. N’Orleans, on the other hand, had a Mother’s Day celebration attended by those who had no particular need for extensive preparation other than a long-standing tradition of expressing the soul of their community. Those in Boston were upwardly and outwardly mobile while those in N’Orleans were moving a bit more slowly with no particular places to go.
    Thus, the statement made by Mr Cole cuts to the chase: “So wall to wall coverage of the shootings in New Orleans would be far more pertinent to far more Americans and their actual social problems than the fetishization of foreign terrorism.”
    The real terrorism in and against the United States has become clearer with the acute changes in social status among its citizenry, more and more similar to Christie’s settings for her stories. We now have the newly identified “1%” whose wealth matches how much of that of those below them? The sense of entitlement must correspond to the amount of disposable income compared to that of “99%,” requiring those at the lower rungs to be beholding to the more fortunate. A tragedy happening to the “1%” is much more engaging because it’s easier to bury similar events in the vastly larger numbers of the “99%.”
    And, what is the recourse taken to demonstrate some sort of ‘equality,’ whether by the ‘terrorists’ or other criminal elements? Expressing frustrations through violent acts to protest the policies of the governments’ actions, either on a global or a local scale? Using a pressure cooker or a gun to effect some sort of shock to the public sensibilities? The differences can be seen if only by looking at who is expressing their inner angst, not only how. Perhaps the Tsarnaev fellows were driven by their perceptions of how the “West” views the Muslim parts of the World (something that has been centuries in the making and in endurance). Perhaps the Scott fellow was motivated by the real terrorist threat throughout the United States, that of localised gang warfare, an emulation of the larger wars perpetrated on those seen as being of infinitely less value.
    Showing the clean avenues of Boston then at the worn and dilapidated streets of N’Orleans highlights what the broader viewing audience would like to see. Providing images of fit and healthy athletes is much more appealing and uplifting than any shown of the average neighbourhood fellow, Mr Hickman, sitting on his stoop. When we watch the N’Orleans video, the conditions are striking with litter and stains and chipped paint and weeds. Yet, without thinking about his appearance or how he speaks, Mr Hickman is no less eloquent in his perceptions of what had transpired, whether pertaining to N’Orleans OR to Boston.

  5. “One possible answer is that the shooting was not put under the sign of ‘terrorism’ by the FBI, but of ‘crime.’”
    Dear Doctor Cole:
    I am sure the folks in Baghdad “reminded” you of answers to related questions.

  6. I completely agree with Cole’s sentiments on this issue. I remember that both the day and the day after the tragedy, the story was featured on Al Jazeera’s main page but not NyTimes (!) It was as though nothing had even happened.

  7. A couple of other possibilities here:
    (1) Perhaps the media doesn’t want to contribute to the stereotype/myth/whatever of young black males as violent, criminal, etc. Or, (2) maybe the media likes the narrative of mass shooters being angry white male NRA types, and doesn’t want to challenge that. Or,
    (3) maybe New Orleans isn’t as “important” as the Northeastern elite in Boston, MA, and Sandy Hook, CT. So, there’s racism and classism too.

    • The DC snipers were black and got plenty of coverage. The Central Park gang-rapists – who were really innocent – got plenty of coverage. The media will sell the stories that our population wants to buy, and there’s no lack of negative stories about black people on local TV news during a sweeps month.

  8. I think you need to look up the definition of “crime,” Juan.

  9. Amazing that so many responses suggest racism was not involved in the media silence, or if it was, only a little bit. Horrors! ANYTHING but racism! Of course, recognizing racism in a media event doesn’t mean that Anderson Cooper or any other journalist is a flat-out racist. News is all about advertising, which is all about reaching an audience. If the majority of Americans would rather grieve over people who look like them, it shall be done. What a country.

  10. A few hints of racism here – first, it appears gang-related. Gangs are associated with ethnic (non-white) groups, and since often gang violence is concentrated on other gangs (predominantly non-white) there seems to be a lack of urgency to tackle it, at least outside of urban areas. NOLA has been cracking down on gang violence for a while – perhaps this event was some kind of “retribution”, but that’s just speculation. But media interest will only go so far as perceived media consumer interest goes, and the sad fact is that the suburbs don’t really care about gang violence, as long as it stays in the city.

    I also think the terror v. crime dichotomy hinges on some ethnic bias. We don’t call the Mother’s Day shooting a terrorist attack (even though it could fit the bill, if indeed it was some kind of retribution for police crackdowns) because it apparently has nothing to do with Islam. Our use of the word terrorism has evolved to the point where I think it’s really that narrow in the minds of many.

  11. Huh? Hundreds of people were injured in Boston. Dozens were mutilated and will be left severely disabled. Three people were killed. How is this the same?

    More people were KILLED in the Sandy Hook shootings than were even shot in this incident. These are completely different levels of severity.

    It undermines an otherwise important point about racism to use such a flimsy example.

    • If 19 white people had been shot at a New York parade, it would have been news.

      It isn’t a matter of scale.

  12. Also, if an incident takes place somewhere besides the Beltway and the East Coast, or at least, the West Coast, it mostly doesn’t happen for the rest of the country – unless, of course, it is labeled a terrorist attack. I don’t quite understand why, since a person is just as dead or injured by shooting, as by a bomb. Way down in the bayou country, which is near to falling off the continent, we are barely viewed as part of the USA.

    The NO police have been cracking down on gang members, and I wondered, like Paul Koopman, if the shooting was in retaliation against someone who fingered gang members to the police. A number of witnesses to crimes, who were scheduled to testify in court, have been killed – enough to cause fear about cooperating with law enforcement authorities.

    June Butler

  13. As a peace officer in a major metropolitan area for the last 15 years, I have time and again noticed that multiple homicides in a minority neighborhood don’t even get into the evening news while a relatively minor crime in affluent/white areas gets significant TV/newspaper coverage.

    I have also noticed that there is quite some disparity in how prosecution responds to white victims of homicide versus minority victims of homicide.

  14. Professor I am more than a little surprised by your and the other comments. Boston was a ready-made infotainment bonanza. Many ‘news’ orgs were already in place, hundreds of people had cameras and phones for subsequent cherry picking, and Boston has an American Independence aura New Orleans will never have that made the terrorism label just that much more tantalizing. We had footage of the Actual Explosion immediately. The Breaking Situation kept breaking again and again and again through the afternoon and dark night with copters buzzing about, streets closed, people milling around behind police barriers, a plethora of police and guns and security and emergency services of all types. It was a quick copter ride to insert more and more news crews for more footage for producers to put on the broadcast merry go round, each with breathless (even suitably disheveled) ‘we don’t know yet’ reporters uttering inanities and relaying the latest gossip before the switch to the next reporter on the scenes which multiplied, rather than one New Orleans street corner. And it all was looped endlessly, endlessly— the explosion, a new shot of the explosion, blood, chaos, screams, sobbing people, interviews, the explosion, a new shot of the explosion, blood, chaos, screams, sobbing people, interviews, the explosion, a new shot of the explosion, blood, chaos, screams, sobbing people, interviews……Can you imagine the ratings!!!

    An important story that came and went was how the media handled this. If this was a good and not excessive example of reportage, would twice as much been good too? Three or four times as much? This was coverage by tape looping and looping is what it does to the mind’s wiring too. This was media gossip gone wild. The young man supposedly on the run as well as the young completely innocent man not on the run but under media suspicion were being tried equally by the media. That you should have noted. In one single way the reporters were accurate. They didn’t know jack.

    If you were in the middle of a South Dakota wheat field on a tractor you missed all this. You found out when you got home and got a synopsis and then watched some loops for yourself for a while. If you were picking avocados or digging a ditch or not instantly hooked into the streaming images you had a different experience of Boston than if you had been glued to the tv.

    I happened to be trying to eat dinner in an urban buffet/bar with about six large screen monitors blinking that afternoon. The human brain isn’t wired to ignore blinking lights so I had to look until I realized it was 80% replays and 2% information. Looking around the room I saw lots of singles nursing their drinks, utterly transfixed and unblinking as the loops rolled. If I had been sitting in a room of troglodytes it would have been no different. They all would have been zoned out on the blinking lights and quick scene changes. The use by media of these techniques is informed and intentional. They don’t want you to learn anything, they just want a ratings burst and the ad income it can bring. I media can transfix you like a caveman, it doesn’t hesitate.

    At the table the conversation was brief and to the point: “kill the fuckers” were the direct quotes all around. At that point one of the suspects was dead and the room wanted the other one dead too. I said “Killing the other guy is the LAST thing you want to happen. He is the only witness. Kill him and you eliminate all ability to ever find out what happened and why. Boston will become just another conspiracy theory that generates general mistrust.” I think we are extremely fortunate that the suspect eventually captured was not filled full of holes by the assembled security masses. Now it is possible to know, not guess, what happened.

    Informed Comment is important because it rightly prefers informed understanding that enables a well reasoned prioritization of action, over breathless conjecture and adrenal poking image jumps. Boston was reported differently than New Orleans because it was an ideal setup for media exaggeration, just like airliner crashes and bloody murders of famous people. The global bee population and its relationship to the human need to eat food is a much more important story, but it’s impossible to be breathless around bees and they don’t tape loop worth a damn. Online news has become important because at least a sector of the population has recognized that media news is largely bullshit, and they really want to know what’s going on. With profit and the manufacture of consent as significant drivers of broadcast media, the media will not control itself to serve the nation’s best interests. But the media does have a weak spot. You can turn it off.

  15. Why indeed does US media cover what does, how it does…linked via Ed Wallace and originating not in the US, but the British Guardian. There was video for this too, but it was too short to loop. Excerpt:

    Four weeks ago today, Adair Grain Inc’s fertilizer plant in the small rural town of West in central Texas caught fire and exploded. Fourteen people died, most of them first responders, and 200 more were injured. The Insurance Council of Texas estimates that damage to surrounding homes and businesses totals $100m. Of the 157 homes in the area closest to the plant, building inspectors determined that only three were safe for habitation……..

    Following the Oklahoma City bombing, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) created a voluntary program with The Fertilizer Institute to encourage people in agriculture to report any suspicious behavior or thefts around sites that housed the compound (no one has reported that ATF was ever contacted about West even though “sheriff’s deputies were called more than 10 times to West Fertilizer in the 11 years before the blast” with “multiple calls involv[ing] suspicion that anhydrous ammonia was being stolen”). More recently, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed the Ammonium Nitrate Security Program in order to keep better track of large supplies of ammonium nitrate so that it did not end up being used in an act of terrorism.

    Adair Grain told the Texas Department of Health Services in late February that its plant in West had the capacity to store 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, which is, according to Reuters, “1,350 times the amount … that would normally trigger safety oversight by” the DHS. The plant had no sprinklers, no fire walls, and no deluge systems, according to the Associated Press. The insurance policy on the plant was only for $1m. Texas does not have liability insurance mandates for plants like the one in West in case people are injured or killed. It does, however, require those liability mandates for all kinds of businesses like those that rent out inflatable bounce houses for kids’ birthday parties and air-conditioner repair outfits.

    In Adair Grain’s 2011 report to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it stated “no” under fire or explosive risks. The worst possible scenario, the report said, “would be a 10-minute release of ammonia gas that would kill or injure no one”. This report was filed after Adair Grain had received a $2,300 fine in 2006 from the EPA for “failing to have a risk management plan that met federal standards”. The EPA has said that it does not expect plants to disclose levels of ammonium nitrate because the compound does not affect the Clean Air Act, which is its concern.

    The Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) had not been to the site since 1985, when it fined the plant $30 for “a serious violation for storage of anhydrous ammonia,” a gas that also has the potential to explode and which was on stored at the plant. OSHA not inspecting the site more regularly is no surprise. According to Bryce Covert at Think Progress, “a workplace only gets a visit from OSHA inspectors every 99 years on average, with some state programs even worse”. Due to Texas’ more lax oversight, a plant there “can only expect an inspection every 126 years”.

    Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) inspected the site only two years ago and fined Adair Grain over $10,000 for “for missing placards, transporting anhydrous ammonia in non-specification tanks, and not having a security plan in violation of Hazardous Materials Regulations.” The company was also fined in 2011 by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for not having the correct licensing. Donald Adair, the current owner of the plant, has owned it since 2004.
    Another reason the national media may not be paying much attention to West is that a lot of it is a Texas story. Conservative politicians have responded as many expected – that there is no reason to increase regulation or oversight – thus feeding an idea that this tragedy could only happen there (or in states with similar permissive laws).
    More at:
    link to guardian.co.uk

    Longer video at You Tube

  16. I do not wish to diminish in any way the impact of the shootings in New Orleans or the bombing in Boston. I do wish to point out that it would have been worthwhile to include in the article that there were no fatalities reported in the New Orleans parade event and there were fatalities in the Boston bombing.

    Given that our media zero in on sensationalism, the lack of fatalities could partially explain why the New Orleans story received comparatively little coverage. I do think this article is a fair indictment of the media’s priorities, but I think it is a reach to proclaim racism based on the allotment of coverage for these two events.

  17. To be blunt, I think the lack of any deaths is the biggest reason the national media has provided so little coverage of New Orleans. However, I wouldn’t assume that means nobody else is paying attention either. On the day it happened, it was the top story on the local news where I live, despite New Orleans being 1500 miles away; and when I caught a glance at lunch yesterday of the list of stories on CBS’s website that people were actually reading most often there that day, none of the Washington scandals the media’s been hyping this week made the list while both New Orleans and the Belize pyramid demolition mentioned above did.

  18. the first report I saw online about the N’awlins shooting emphasized that it was NOT A TERRORIST ATTACK. That determination apparently was made within 30 minutes of the shooting.

    Maybe it reflects badly on me, but I assumed that meant that the victims were all Black.

  19. The first point is that the capitalist, corporate media’s job isn’t to report the “news.” It’s to provide content that attracts viewers and/or readers that their advertisers covet. They are capitalist corporations and their bottom line is their bottom line. If people happen to be informed by their content that is literally beside the point. So, one can’t delineate the capitalist, corporate media coverage of two different tragedies based on newsworthiness, whatever that means.

    Second, disaster porn attracts viewers. The Boston bombing was a perfect opportunity to wallow in the human misery accompanying the terrorist act. For some reason people are attracted to this spectacle as they are the humiliation and degradation that are the standard fare of reality shows.

    Peter Phillips with research assistance from Bob Klose, Nicola Mazumdar, and Alix Jestron make a more comprehensive point in a short article “Self-censorship
    and the Homogeneity of the Media Elite, here:

    link to thirdworldtraveler.com

    “The authors Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky claim that because media is firmly imbedded in the [capitalist] market system, it reflects the class values and concerns of its owners and advertisers. They hold that the media maintains a corporate class bias though five systemic filters: concentrated private ownership; a strict bottom-line profit orientation; over-reliance on governmental and corporate sources for news; a primary tendency to avoid offending the powerful; and an almost religious worship of the market [capitalist] economy, devaluing alternative beliefs. These filters limit what will become news in society and set parameters on acceptable coverage of daily events.”

    The Boston Marathon bombing was news for all of the above obvious reasons. It also dovetailed nicely with and reinforced the terrorism narrative that has fueled the US war machine and the associated civil liberty erosion.

    The New Orleans shooting didn’t fit neatly into any narrative except maybe, gun control, law and order and the need to build more prisons. The subjects involved are people that don’t usually make profit generating news.

    How often do we see people like James Ramsey on TV? He’s charismatic, poor and living in a low income neighborhood. The capitalist, corporate media ignores these people along with the unemployed and homeless. Their stories are rarely told at least in part because they are depressing, but also because it clearly demonstrates in human cost of the normal, profitable operation of capitalism.

    In 2008, Glenn Greenwald wrote in Salon.com, “The US Establishment Media in a Nutshell”, by Glenn Greenwald

    “In the past two weeks, the following events transpired. A Department of Justice memo, authored by John Yoo, was released which authorized torture and presidential lawbreaking. It was revealed that the Bush administration declared the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights to be
    inapplicable to “domestic military operations” within the U.S. The U.S. Attorney General appears to have fabricated a key event leading to the 9/11 attacks and made patently false statements about surveillance laws and related lawsuits. Barack Obama went bowling in Pennsylvania and
    had a low score.

    Here are the number of times, according to NEXIS, that various topics have been mentioned in
    the media over the past thirty days:
    “Yoo and torture” – 102
    “Mukasey and 9/11″ — 73
    “Yoo and Fourth Amendment” — 16
    “Obama and bowling” — 1,043
    “Obama and Wright” — More than 3,000 (too many to be counted)
    “Obama and patriotism” – 1,607
    “Clinton and Lewinsky” — 1,079
    And as Eric Boehlert documents, even Iraq — that little five-year U.S. occupation with no end in
    sight — has been virtually written out of the media narrative in favor of mindless, stupid, vapid
    chatter of the type referenced above.

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