Media Monday: Does the Washington Post treat male and female bank robbers differently?
In a letter to the editor published in Friday's Washington Post, reader Ronald K. Henry accuses the paper of an overly sympathetic portrayal, in a recent article, of a drug-addicted female former MS-13 gang member, Stephanie Schwab, who allegedly carjacked two people at knife point, robbed two banks, and stole a van during a 13-day crime spree. Henry points to the story's concluding quote, from a lawyer who knew the suspect: “It’s nothing but sad.”
"Here is an 'imagination exercise': Imagine that the person in the story was Stephen rather than Stephanie," Henry writes.
Can you imagine The Post offering such a sympathetic portrayal of a drug-addicted male suspected of bank robbing, kidnapping, car stealing and knife wielding?
Of course not. That will remain unimaginable until The Post overcomes its sexist refusal to treat women as grown-ups with accountability for their behavior, just like men.
To see if Henry's charge — that the Post would've treated the suspect differently if she were male — was true, I searched "bank robber" in the website's archives for all articles since 2005. I found only two articles that genuinely humanized the suspect (rather than simply reporting the facts of arrest and prosecution). In a story from November, "Bank robber misses jail, heads home," Maurice Emile is described in the second paragraph, by the Richmond policeman who caught him, as "very pleasant. He kept praising me.... He was apologizing to everyone.” The article continues,
Emile apologized to the SunTrust Bank teller who got his note demanding cash last April. He apologized to the jurors who weren’t selected. 'They were leaving and he was saying, "I apologize to y’all for wasting your day today,"' Nixon said. 'It was so surreal.'
It's the story of a man who robbed banks because, as he told jurors, he wanted to go back to jail. He missed life there. But the kicker comes from a quote by the jury foreman, who said, “It was kind of a sad case.”
And in a 2005 article about Northern Virginia Community College student Candice Martinez, the "cell phone bandit," Tom Jackman reports,
One neighbor characterized Martinez as 'caring,' a young woman loved by the many children who play in the cul-de-sac. 'Personally, I think the real story isn't that she robbed a couple of banks,' the man said. 'She was someone with a good job, a car, going to school, a 19-year-old doing very well. The story is, How did this happen?'
So. Here we have two stories about bank robbers — one male, one female. Both are sympathetic portraits, the former decidedly more so. Neither suspect, of course, was accused of as many crimes as Schwab, but this limited evidence suggests the Post shows no such "sexist refusal" to treat women suspects as grown-ups. Quoting someone describing a suspect's case as "sad" doesn't implicitly excuse the criminal act. Rather, it helps humanize someone who might otherwise be just another faceless criminal in the daily crime log.
Now, how has the Post portrayed other MS-13 gang members — namely Hispanic teenagers, rather than a white 19-year-old — who are accused of similar offenses? That might be a more worthwhile exercise, but it'll have to wait for another day.
"How Do You Explain Gene Weingarten?" That's what Tom Bartlett asks in a 5,200-word Washingtonian profile of the Post's two-time Pulitzer winner. The story leads with a tale about Weingarten telling his son a reprehensible fib: that Weingarten doesn't wear a seatbelt because, long ago, his sister drowned while trapped in her seatbelt. Weird, right? That's the idea — Weingerten is weird. He's also a brilliant feature writer, as this, this, this and this prove. There are no bombshells in Bartlett's piece, but if that's how we judge personality profiles these days, I'm sure Weingarten would have something to say about it. Read this, if only for the part where he quits a job over staples. (Related: Fishbowl DC's Betsy Rothstein calls Bartlett "vain" and says Washingtonian editor Garrett Graff, who once ran Fishbowl DC, is "dead to us." I'm sure he's devastated.)
After the jump: a CSN reporter complains, lengthily, about media parking at Redskins Park, and Bill O'Reilly either is attacked by, or attacks, a community organizer.
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