Does The Media Get Domestic Abuse Wrong?
5 months ago
Activists say more news attention is needed on the tell-tell signs of violence
Domestic violence stories involving public figures tend to stick to the same formula: "Man snaps and hits his woman." Or, "Drug-addicted man with history of abuse assaults his woman." And the classic, "Man having an affair attacks his woman."
The problem with such media coverage, say domestic abuse activists, is that too much of the focus is on what drove the abuser, rather than the challenges facing the abused. With domestic violence being a pervasive problem in the U.S., news media has a responsibility to provide Americans with information about the signs that domestic violence is taking place and the difficulties people being abused can have escaping their abusers, activists say. Without this, policy and laws can be misshapen by the misunderstanding brought about by misplaced media attention, activists say. Domestic violence, they say, deserves a media spotlight, not a snapshot.
A missed opportunity for better spotlighting the issue of domestic violence in the United States occurred last week during news coverage of Kansas City Chiefs' Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide, which resulted in the death of his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and orphaned their 3-month-old daughter, Zoe, said Jane Aoyama-Martin, executive director of the Women’s Justice Center at Pace University.
“Whenever you have a case where there is domestic violence, somehow the victim gets lost [in the news coverage,]” Aoyama-Martin told Loop 21. “We tend to hear, ‘Oh, he’s under stress’ or ‘he cracked.’ Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior that doesn’t lend itself to the six o’clock news treatment.”
That’s precisely what some media columnists noted about coverage of the Belcher case. Police in Kansas City say the 25-year-old linebacker returned home the morning of Dec. 1, after spending the night with another woman. Belcher and Perkins are said to have argued before the footballer shot Perkins, kissed their daughter goodbye, drove to Arrowhead Stadium, and fatally shot himself in front of his coaches.
By Dec. 4, many news reports were playing up Belcher's stress and use of alcohol as factors in the murder-suicide. Two days prior, veteran sports broadcaster Bob Costas drew the ire of gun-rights advocates for his halftime commentary in which he linked Belcher’s actions to the need for stricter gun control. By week’s end, coverage seemed to focus on what may be the most tragic aspect of the case – 3-month-old orphan Zoe -- and the decision by the NFL to financially support her through her 23rd birthday, if she decides to go to college.
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But where was Kasandra Perkins in all of this?
The major sports broadcasts – namely NBC, CBS, ESPN and the NFL Networks – were uneven in their coverage and missed opportunities to go deeper, Richard Prince of the Maynard Institute wrote in his media column, Journal-isms, last week. Most columnists agreed that ESPN had the most successful coverage, opting to cancel lighthearted elements of its usual Sunday football broadcast to offer a more traditional news report of the Belcher incident. Others were panned for their weakness in covering breaking news or for passively mentioning the tragedy.
Robert Weintraub of the Columbia Journalism Review praised Costas for weighing in with the controversial gun control commentary.