Murder less foul: The Duncan shooting in the New York Times

Editor’s note: This is an opinion column by George Salamon.

How would the paper of record treat the Aug. 16 shooting of the Australian college baseball player by three teenagers in Duncan, Okla.? As of Aug. 22, it hasn’t touched the story.

Unless you count a seven-line item from the Associated Press it ran Aug. 20, under the heading “Sports Briefing/Baseball.” Say it ain’t so, Jill Abramson, or anyone at the Times, please. The paper’s printing of this abysmal little piece about the horrific shooting and death of the 23-year-old Chris Lane, “Charges in Fatal Shooting in Oklahoma,” and placement of it in the “Sports Briefing” section cry out for explanation and an expression of regret.

Didn’t anyone at the paper smell the pathetic attempt at political correctness when the AP writer informed us that Lane was shot while jogging on “a tree-lined road on Duncan’s well-to-do north side” while his alleged killers come from “the gritty part of town”? Ah, there you have it, liberals on New York’s Upper West Side. If these kids had lived on tree-lined streets instead of in a gritty neighborhood, they might not have been so bored on a summer afternoon that they decided to kill someone “for fun,” as one of them admitted.

Maybe, as I write this, the Times has dispatched a couple of reporters to Duncan to explore the town’s socio-economic dynamics and its race relations (the three teenagers are black, while Lane was white) and come up with a more complex and sophisticated explanation for yet another “senseless” killing – and one in the heartland, at that. Duncan, after all, isn’t Newark. At least not yet.

Every time one of these “senseless” killings occurs (as compared to those that make sense?) we get the usual expressions of shock (“I’m shocked, shocked that killing goes on here”) and denial (“This isn’t Duncan,” said the county’s district attorney.) Isn’t it about time reporters started questioning such statements before “moving on” to the usual parade of lit candles and collection of flowers at the murder scene?

I only wish. We’ll get, instead, liberals ranting one way and conservatives another – and another news cycle of schlock grief and mock outrage until the next “senseless” killing. Judging by the headline on a story in my local paper, “St. Louis man charged with murder for shooting teen on scooter,” the wait usually is short.

Joan Rivers, comedian and TV talk show host, used to ask her audience, “Can we talk?” about many uncomfortable issues confronting America, but an honest answer to her is still “no” or “not yet.” Judging by how the Times handled the Duncan shooting so far, we’re not even getting there.

Salamon taught German literature and culture at several East Coast colleges, and served as staff reporter for the St. Louis Business Journal and as senior editor for Defense Systems Review. He has published three academic books and contributed articles to the Washington Post and the American Conservative.

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