When reporting a story, media sources have the responsibility of sharing the facts of the case. However, not all facts reported are relevant and necessary, especially when they are intentionally written to discredit and demonize the victims of these cases. The media need to be particular and sensitive about this and let victims be what they are in these instances—victims.
A recent example of is the situation involving United Airlines and Dr. David Dao. Dao was a paying passenger on United flight 3411 when he was violently removed to make room on the overbooked flight. Dao suffered a broken nose, a concussion and lost two teeth. Yet, soon after this news story broke out, a news outlet was reporting on Dao’s “troubled past.”
The Courier-journal reported on Dao’s history of drug-related offenses. This information was unnecessary and attempted to create a “he is not so innocent,” attitude toward the victim. Dao’s medical license and occupational history has no relevance to how he was violently dragged off the airplane.
“Reporting this about the man United assaulted is not relevant to what happened and suggests a misunderstanding of the U.S. legal system,” said Racheline Maltese, media analyst, in a series of tweets about the event. “It terrorizes victims of crimes. Legit, are you going to share the sexual history of rape victims next?”
Fortunately, Dao was left relatively unharmed when compared to the victims who are still treated in this manner after they are murdered.
Eric Garner died while a New York Police Department officer held him in a chokehold to arrest him. Despite Garner being the victim and dying because of the incident, it did not stop several news sources to report irrelevant facts that did not pertain to the case.
The Wall Street Journal reported Garner’s arrest history and Newsmax reported on then-current charges he was on bail for, all of which have no relevance or need to be reported. Garner was the victim because he was the one who died. There is no way to justify this situation, despite media outlets’ attempts to do by bringing in the victim’s history.
Victim smearing happens often enough to be almost normalized and expected. It is understandable to get the story from multiple angles, but once unneeded facts are brought in that demonize the victim, it seems as though they are somehow responsible for what happened to them.
Dr. Dao cannot be just the man who was dragged off the plane anymore; he has to be the doctor with drug problems that was dragged off the plane. In death, Garner cannot be the man who was choked to death by a police officer; he has to be the man with a long criminal history who was choked to death.
It is important for the media to report the facts of a story and to contextualize it. However, when sources decide to release information, they have a duty to only release what is pertinent to the case. It is more important they report relevant facts and assist in telling the story to the audience, not facts that try to smear and discredit the victim.
– John Lee is a marketing freshman