Is the media simply racist? Detroit News columnist hits the mark on Bashara murder coverage

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

Crime is a way of life in urban communities, and Detroit is always right up there as one of the baddest of the bads when the FBI releases its annual violent crime statistics.

In the first month of this year, Detroit initially recorded 38 homicides–more than one a day and a sobering statistic.

When a Grosse Pointe Park woman was found strangled in her Mercedes SUV in a Detroit alley on January 25, she was initially listed as one of the 38.

The case became a national and local media sensation since Jane Bashara was white, and Grosse Pointe Park, a suburban enclave, not quite as tony as Grosse Pointe but close, hadn’t had a homicide in more than 20 years. Most of the sad victims of homicides in Detroit are African American.

Suspicion immediately swirled, as its usually does, around those closest to the victim, in this case the woman’s husband, Bob Bashara. The media pack staked out the family’s home, and breathless teasers were broadcast in advance of evening news shows. Interviews of the husband and his attorney made the morning national news shows. The local police have named the husband the only “person of interest.”

A former employee of Bashara’s turned himself into police alleging telling them he was involved in the murder. Details are murky on his story since the police aren’t commenting, but those anonymous sources media love report that his story keeps changing. He was eventually released without being charged, though a court appointed attorney was assigned to him. That means he is either a material witness or needs someone to make a deal for him with the county prosecutor.

To date, there have been no arrests, but the hyperventilating coverage continues.

Police are now saying she was likely murdered in her home or garage and her body moved to her car and the car abandoned in that Detroit alley. Scratch one homicide from Detroit’s tally. Detroit police, with a legion of experience in homicides, are assisting the GPP cops along with the forensics experts from the Michigan State Police.

That conclusion was quickly reached. A tow truck driver found the body. The only surprise: the car wasn’t stripped, but then no self-respecting car stripper is going to mess with a car, even if it is a Mercedes, with a body clearly visible inside.

But Jane Bashara’s murder raises some issues about media coverage of crime, particularly in cities like Detroit. Thirty-seven other people died in Detroit in January, but it’s the death of a white suburban woman that generated this overwhelming coverage. Is the media simply racist or is it, as Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley wrote: “Detroit has allowed slaughter to become so common it’s no longer newsworthy.”

His provocative column, “If life’s cheap, murder’s not news” is a poignant, and, in my view, accurate commentary.

10 replies »

  1. There’s a difference clearly. Look what happens when a white child disappears. But not sure it’s media bias. Dog bites man is not news and man bites dog is. Sadly, a murder in gross pointe is news. In the city, it’s not that unusual.

    by the way, joseph wambaugh said that the stats are truly amazing. from memory, i think he said 90% of the time it’s the husband, and that grows to 99% if there was a history of violence or a mistress involved.

  2. It’s not just Detroit where this occurs. Media coverage has been extensive at the national level, too, when the victims have been white children or white women. Far more African American and Hispanic children, women and men are victims but they don’t get coverage. Media bias? Throwing stones at the news media is just stoning the messenger. People within their communities need to stop tolerating these crimes against all people. Some of the best in depth coverage of Detroit has been in the Metro Times by John Carlisle.

  3. It would seem to me that throwing stones at the community is an easy way to blame the victims, i.e., the community at large. I’d be curious to know what percentage of the ~713,000 in Detroit “tolerate” crime. How, exactly, would one arrive at that assessment?

    As for throwing stones at the media, I like to think of it as attempting to hold them accountable to their public. With corporate consolidation of major media and with the editorial desks and talking heads held accountable more to their paymasters and advertisers rather than to the public service of genuine journalism, it’s essential for a growing segment of the viewing/reading audience to take editors and journalists to task. Leave the sensationalism to the tabloids.

    “In the news today: Approximately 1/3 of Detroiters still dirt poor. Side effects of poverty ravage the community. With us today, an expert on poverty issues addressing specific details of the social and economic forces in Detroit that sustain poverty. Also with us, Dr. L. Faire. with a well-reasoned perspective to the contrary. Stay tuned throughout the coming days, weeks and months as we put widespread poverty under the microscope to explore not just the causes, but possible, real-world solutions. Up next, Councilwoman Constance Cerned about her new proposal before the council to address one of the root causes of systemic poverty.”

    Now that would be news you could use.

  4. MAKE it news… If you are connected or affected, then climb on your highest horse and ride through the media camps demanding their attention.

  5. I think that the article has a lot more meaning when read as a whole, not a quote or two that can be taken out of context.

    My wife often tells me that in New York in the 70’s and 80’s they’d just list the stats for the day’s murder totals because there were so many. This reminds me of our good friend Joseph Stalin – The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.

    I’ll put forth the opinion of one who works in the media but is not a journalist. It’s not about the colour of your skin or being rich or poor or anywhere in between when it comes to relevance of what is newsworthy, it’s about good people and bad people and highlighting the most intriguing of both.

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