US MSM starts to catch up on Jena…why so slow…?


npr.gif On Monday, July 30th, NPR’s All Things Considered broadcast a story on the Jena 6.

Other than coverage of the first trial of one of the defendants, Mychal Bell, by a print outlet, The Chicago Tribune (whose initial Jena story – thanks to Howard Witt, Tribune reporter, for his help – is available here), this is the first Main Stream Media (MSM) coverage of the Jena story by a major US news media outlet. The local newspaper of record, the Alexandria Town Talk, has been the main source of coverage of the story on a regular basis.

Why has it taken the American MSM so long to pick up the Jena story?

The BBC covered the story two months ago. Independent media (including this blog on three separate occasions) have been covering Jena for over a month. Other blogs have also covered the story repeatedly.


If one does a Google search for “Michael Vick dog fighting,” one gets 2,210,000 hits in .12 seconds. If one does a Google search for “Jena Six case,” one gets 647,000 hits in .2 seconds. That’s three times as many available hits in a little more than half the time. Now there is no doubt that the Vick case is an important story – both the despicable culture of dog fighting and its corrosive effects on young men in the African American community are having light shed on them that will, one hopes, help to eliminate the former and rehabilitate the latter. But is this issue three times as important as what the Jena Six are facing – as the Google statistics seem to suggest? What the BBC calls “stealth racism” would seem to be at least as important a corrosive element in African American culture as dog fighting. Indeed, one could well argue that behaviors such as those exhibited by the school superintendent and the district attorney in Jena surpass the problems created by glamorization of dog fighting in the black community because they erode (or rather disenfranchise) the gains in civil rights and liberties that the struggles of the 1950’s and 1960’s worked so hard and painfully to obtain.

I have written elsewhere about the seeming failure of important black leaders to address the Jena Six case. My thesis then suggested that those leaders chose to focus their attention on Michael Vick’s case because Vick, a high profile NFL star, offered the opportunity for those leaders to receive more publicity. But on reflection I believe it might be something more.

In a media saturated culture such as ours, getting attention paid to social messages ranges from difficult to impossible. Perhaps the strategy of Russell Simmons and Al Sharpton of piggy backing on the dog fighting issue that came to news consciousness with Michael Vick’s troubles has allowed them to address a serious issue in the African American community. They can get some traction because they take a stance that challenges some assumptions – particularly assumptions held by young black men. That makes sense.

mlk.jpg But Simmons and Sharpton are important male role models in the African American community – and their attention to the Jena Six case could bring more MSM attention to the case – and create pressure on Jena leaders to address the unfairness of their treatment of these young men – and perhaps give pause to other community leaders when similar cases arise. That tactic worked well for Dr. King. It would work well in this case…..

13 replies »

  1. Actually, the Chicago Tribune first covered the Jena story in May, before the first trial. Here is the original story:,0,4342867.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-utl
    Racial demons rear heads
    After months of unrest between blacks and whites in Louisiana town, some see racism and uneven justice
    By Howard Witt

    Tribune senior correspondent

    May 20, 2007

    JENA, La.

    The trouble in Jena started with the nooses. Then it rumbled along the town’s jagged racial fault lines. Finally, it exploded into months of violence between blacks and whites.

    Now the 3,000 residents of this small lumber and oil town deep in the heart of central Louisiana are confronting Old South racial demons many thought had long ago been put to rest.

    One morning last September, students arrived at the local high school to find three hangman’s nooses dangling from a tree in the courtyard.

    The tree was on the side of the campus that, by long-standing tradition, had always been claimed by white students, who make up more than 80 percent of the 460 students. But a few of the school’s 85 black students had decided to challenge the accepted state of things and asked school administrators if they, too, could sit beneath the tree’s cooling shade.

    “Sit wherever you want,” school officials told them. The next day, the nooses were hanging from the branches.

    African-American students and their parents were outraged and intimidated by the display, which instantly summoned memories of the mob lynchings that once terrorized blacks across the American South. Three white students were quickly identified as being responsible, and the high school principal recommended that they be expelled.

    “Hanging those nooses was a hate crime, plain and simple,” said Tracy Bowens, a black mother of two students at the high school who protested the incident at a school board meeting.

    But Jena’s white school superintendent, Roy Breithaupt, ruled that the nooses were just a youthful stunt and suspended the students for three days, angering blacks who felt harsher punishments were justified.

    “Adolescents play pranks,” said Breithaupt, the superintendent of the LaSalle Parish school system. “I don’t think it was a threat against anybody.”

    Yet it was after the noose incident that the violent, racially charged events that are still convulsing Jena began.

    First, a series of fights between black and white students erupted at the high school over the nooses. Then, in late November, unknown arsonists set fire to the central wing of the school, which still sits in ruins. Off campus, a white youth beat up a black student who showed up at an all-white party. A few days later, another young white man pulled a shotgun on three black students at a convenience store.

    Finally, on Dec. 4, a group of black students at the high school allegedly jumped a white student on his way out of the gym, knocked him unconscious and kicked him after he hit the floor. The victim — allegedly targeted because he was a friend of the students who hung the nooses and had been taunting blacks — was not seriously injured and spent only a few hours in the hospital.

    But the LaSalle Parish district attorney, Reed Walters, opted to charge six black students with attempted second-degree murder and other offenses, for which they could face a maximum of 100 years in prison if convicted. All six were expelled from school.

    To the defendants, their families and civil rights groups that have examined the events, the attempted murder charges brought by a white prosecutor are excessive and part of a pattern of uneven justice in the town.

    The critics note, for example, that the white youth who beat the black student at the party was charged only with simple battery, while the white man who pulled the shotgun at the convenience store wasn’t charged with any crime at all. But the three black youths in that incident were arrested and accused of aggravated battery and theft after they wrestled the weapon from the man — in self-defense, they said.

    “There’s been obvious racial discrimination in this case,” said Joe Cook, executive director of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who described Jena as a “racial powder keg” primed to ignite. “It appears the black students were singled out and targeted in this case for some unusually harsh treatment.”

    That’s how the mother of one of the defendants sees things as well.

    “They are sending a message to the white kids, ‘You have committed this hate crime, you were taunting these black children, and we are going to allow you to continue doing what you are doing,'” said Caseptla Bailey, mother of Robert Bailey Jr.

    Bailey, 17, is caught up in several of the Jena incidents, as both a victim and alleged perpetrator. He was the black student who was beaten at the party, and he was among the students arrested for allegedly grabbing the shotgun from the man at the convenience store. And he’s one of the six students charged with attempted murder for the Dec. 4 attack.

    The district attorney declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story. But other white leaders insist there are no racial tensions in the community, which is 85 percent white and 12 percent black.

    “Jena is a place that’s moving in the right direction,” said Mayor Murphy McMillan. “Race is not a major local issue. It’s not a factor in the local people’s lives.”

    Still others, however, acknowledge troubling racial undercurrents in a town where only 16 years ago white voters cast most of their ballots for David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who ran unsuccessfully for Louisiana governor.

    “I’ve lived here most of my life, and the one thing I can state with absolutely no fear of contradiction is that LaSalle Parish is awash in racism — true racism,” a white Pentecostal preacher, Eddie Thompson, wrote in an essay he posted on the Internet. “Here in the piney woods of central Louisiana … racism and bigotry are such a part of life that most of the citizens do not even recognize it.”

    The lone black member of the school board agrees.

    “There’s no doubt about it — whites and blacks are treated differently here,” said Melvin Worthington, who was the only school board member to vote against expelling the six black students charged in the beating case. “The white kids should have gotten more punishment for hanging those nooses. If they had, all the stuff that followed could have been avoided.”

    And the troubles at the high school are not over yet.

    On May 10, police arrested Justin Barker, 17, the white victim of the Dec. 4 beating. He was alleged to have a rifle loaded with 13 bullets stashed behind the seat of his pickup truck parked in the school lot. Barker told police he had forgotten it was there and had no intention of using it.



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  3. Little local newspapers in the deep south bury certain stories in the back of the paper. A few years ago while visiting Decatur, Mississippi I found a story about what appeared to be a real lynching. A black man (I found out he was black by asking around) was dead by hanging. It appeared to be suicide except the little detail about the tree upon which the black man was found hanging was on a section of land he had been in dispute with a white man (I found out the man was white by asking around) — and the black man’s deed to the property was torn and placed beneath his dead body.

  4. An Open Letter To The Jena Six
    By Joseph Young
    Dear Mychal,
    I keep thinking about you. I also think about the other young men who have fallen prey to racial hatred. Its existence, more than a century after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, makes me fearful for your life, your safety. The freedom that it promised was tenuous.
    It was not entirely without strength. In the proclamation, issued three years into the Civil War, Lincoln declared, at the urging of Frederick Douglass, that the former slaves would be accepted into the Union Army and navy, making the liberated the liberator. By the war

  5. I actually think “black leaders” have been relatively quiet on the Vick case. Especially how he’s been covered in the media.

  6. Me myself am outrage this story had no mainstream coverage while this been goin on for a year now. People deserve to know about this injustice and how racist people are takin the law for granded. Its unconstitutional what they are doin and i am suprise they are actually gettin away wit this. Me i just heard of this story 5 days ago and once i got the full view i got motivated to do something. So the best thing i know how to do is spread the word. I got on myspace posted none stop bulletins lettin ppl be aware of this. A friend of my got curious to the point that she question me about it and become so passionate that she created the freejena6 myspace page and joined me on the quest to let people know. I also emailed my friends chain text everyone and incourage them to do the same. Soon eveyone wanted to be down and help the cause we got shirts being made flyers soon to come and are goin to make it a big deal at our school football game. so if this aint gettin media coverage forget them spread the word they soon will come until then help the cause tell someone

  7. junior delivrance,

    Thanks for your hard work helping to publicize this story. Your work is deeply appreciated by the Free Jena committee I know.

    Keep up the good work – and we’ll gain justice for these young men yet…

  8. thank you so much for your help in reporting and keeping the communitys of america posted on these drastic and rediculous chain of events that could have been stoped before they started!!!

    love the report please keep me updated i would gladly appreciated it !

    free jena 6