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November 29, 2005


Can you guys help me out here? I'm having a really difficult time rewriting my second article. Could you guys maybe tear it apart and give me some suggestions on how I could improve it? It would be a great help. Thanks.

Daniel Horowitz found his wife, Pamela Vitale, beaten to death on October 15th. There are many cases in which victims are beaten to death and left for family members to find, but what makes this a slightly out of the ordinary murder is the suspect. The assailant was a “goth” and a “Satanist” on the grounds that classmates claimed that the young murderer, Scott Dyleski, wore black and painted his nails and read books on Satan. However, whether or not the teen is a goth or a Satanist doesn’t answer the question as to what his motive was or his prove guilt (there has yet to be a trial). In fact, using terms like “goth” and “Satanist” aren’t even answers, they’re just a labels; terrible yet powerful ones. The news media seems to be in the habit of putting incorrect labels on people and incidents lately.

What irks me the most about this particular case is an article that Foxnews.com hosted on its site with the headline: “Teen Held in Vitale Murder Reportedly Satanist”. It goes on to report that Dyleski once drew a pentagram on the ground at school in front of class mates and danced around it. Other students stated that he told people the book he was carrying was about Satan. The article includes quotes from other students calling him goth because of the book’s topic and his sense of fashion. Does anyone else feel the urge to roll up a newspaper and beat Foxnews.com over the head with it?

The issue here is the news media’s need to put inaccurate labels on any kind of behavior, not just on misguided supposed teenaged murderers. Consider the news headlines during Hurricane Katrina: In one article there was a photo of a white person wading waste-deep in water carrying food. The caption read something around the lines of “scavenging” for food. Another article had a similar photo with a black person wading through water with food, only this time the black person “looted” a store for the food. The photos with captions can be found here: http://www.indybay.org/news/2005/09/1764214_comment.php. One white person’s “find” is another black person’s “loot” in the media’s eyes. Doesn’t that seem just a little bit racist? A lot of people thought so, especially when the photos were coming from the same source: news.Yahoo.com. But that just means all the more people are going to Yahoo’s sites.

The media loves to use these deviant labels because it boosts ratings. There’s nothing new about a young teen killing a neighbor over drug paraphernalia. But a Satanist killing a neighbor woman and carving up her back with a cross is eye-catching news.

Rarely when I watch the news or I’m surfing the web I catch “neutral” labels like Democrats or Republicans. Lately everyone is either in the extreme left or the extreme right. There is no middle ground in the media any more. A politician is either on one side of an issue or the other. infrequently do I hear of a politician sitting the fence, and when one does he is pressured not just by his peers, but also the public to choose a side.

When the news is not using labels for ratings, it’s using them to distort facts, and that is terrible journalism. The job of the journalist is to report facts, just plain facts, whatever they may be, to the public. However, “Repetition is key to successful advertising. The American media uses repeated arbitrary labeling in its supposedly impartial coverage in a deliberate campaign to alter public perception” (Rall). Labeling distorts facts to persuade the public’s opinion in one direction or the other. Bush has been using labeling since 9/11. We aren’t fighting a war in Iraq, according to Bush; we’ve always been fighting a war on terror. Which sounds more appeasing to a nation that wants to bring its troops home, fighting Iraq or fighting terror?

Most big news corporations are influenced by the government in one way or another. When those corporations aren’t being persuaded to use a certain word or phrase from the government to keep public approval high, they’ll be persuaded to use labeling to attract more ratings. Dyleski isn’t a “Satanist” or a “goth”; he’s just a kid who dresses in black for attention probably needs some psychiatric help. We’re fighting a war in Iraq, regardless of where the terrorists are. When you haven’t eaten in days and you find some food in an abandoned grocery store, “looting” and “finding” have the same objective. A specific word or phrase can change the whole perspective of the presented facts, and the media knows this. Here’s the point: you, the reader or viewer of the news being presented to you, must be smart enough to know when someone’s trying to persuade you in on direction or the other. You should be able to know what the labels are and as an educated citizen you should be questioning them. (But if you can’t do that, here’s a site that will do it for you: http://mediamatters.org/).

Sources: mediamatters
Look for Media Labels
Teen Held in Vitale Murder Reportedly Satanist
Luckily, another, if not worse, case of labeling (the goth community is pissed) from Fox:
Did A Goth Lifestyle Lead to Pamela Vitale's Murder?

Posted by Whitney Worden at November 29, 2005 5:56 PM

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