By Jody Santos
The MSNBC.com headline reads, “Pageant contestant accused of killing ex-actress.” The first three paragraphs don’t even mention the victim, Felicia Lee, by name. She is simply the “ex-adult movie actress” choked to death by Brian Lee Randone, a self-proclaimed preacher who appeared on the Fox special “The Sexiest Bachelor in America.” As I hurriedly scanned the headline last week, I marveled at how the news media still could be so insensitive. Lee was an afterthought in most of their accounts, and their lurid descriptions of her brutal murder sounded like a plot from “Realty TV Stars Gone Wild.” The press apparently felt no compassion for Lee – no sense of outrage over the fact that Randone allegedly had tortured her for hours prior to finally killing her.
In another recent incident of domestic violence, reporters speculated as to why reality show contestant Ryan Jenkins had murdered model Jasmine Fiore. I’m sure the news media felt like they were being objective and presenting both sides of the story when they mentioned that Fiore had been communicating with an ex-boyfriend prior to her murder – and that Jenkins had been jealous. But is the press really being objective in presenting violence as spurred by something the victim did? In reporting “both sides” of these two stories, the news media failed to put the violence in any kind of social context, instead giving us a he said/she said type of account that minimized this devastating epidemic.
In the most recent issue of Columbia Journalism Review, Brent Cunningham offers a unique prescription for what ails the news media – take a stand and don’t simply amplify the agendas of the rich and powerful. If the mainstream press wants to regain its relevance, Cunningham says, it must assume a leadership role in public discourse. This is particularly true of domestic violence. I believe that some media biases are good – like one that takes a definitive stand against the torture and killing of innocent victims.
Jody Santos is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker, who teaches at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, and she is the author of Daring to Feel: Violence, the News Media, and Their Emotions, which will be out in December.