Before we start this, we will say this: murder is evil. Killing a person is tragic, sad and horrible. We don’t think many people will dispute that.
But (and don’t twist our words on this one), there is a clear media double standard when covering a murder that involves a Brown immigrant and one that does not—whether an immigrant is not Brown or whether the alleged suspect is not an immigrant. We have written about this in the past, and we are not surprised one bit that this double standard continues to thrive in the U.S. media space.
The latest example is just yet another classic case, and it reeks of cheap political xenophobia and fear-mongering.
Just hours after news that Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort were found guilty of several felonies, the Twitter profile of Mike Pence went into clear neo-nativist distraction mode when he tweeted the following:
We commend the swift action by local, state, & federal investigators working in Iowa in apprehending an illegal immigrant, who’s now charged with first-degree murder. Now, justice will be served. We will never forget Mollie Tibbetts.
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) August 21, 2018
Yes, the death of Mollie Tibbetts is tragic, and yes, it is horrible. But so has been the coverage (and we’re not just talking about The Daily Caller or Fox news). Here are just some examples of how major news outlets (even those “liberal” ones) are quick to let readers know that the suspect was undocumented.
The New York Times
Headline: Body Believed to Be That of Mollie Tibbetts, Iowa College Student, Is Found
Lede paragraph: “A body believed to be that of Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old student at the University of Iowa who vanished a month ago after going for a jog, was found on Tuesday morning, investigators announced. A 24-year-old undocumented immigrant has been charged with first-degree murder in the killing.”
Headline: Undocumented immigrant charged with murder in killing of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts
Lede paragraphs: “An undocumented immigrant told police that he killed University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts in a moment of panic after she attempted to call for help on her cell phone, court papers show.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, a Mexican national who has lived in Iowa for at least four years, is being held on a first-degree murder charge in the brazen attack, officials said Tuesday. Tibbetts vanished July 18 while out for an evening jog.”
The Washington Post
Headline: Man charged with killing Mollie Tibbetts is an undocumented immigrant, authorities say
Lede paragraphs: “Law enforcement officials in Iowa have charged a man with murdering 20-year-old college student Mollie Tibbets, saying he admitted to pursuing her as she ran on a country road and eventually led them to the field where a body that they believe to be hers was hidden under corn stalks.
The suspect was identified as 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera, who authorities said was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Rivera worked at a local farm for the past four years, according to The Associated Press. Authorities also spelled Rivera’s first name as Christian.”
The Associated Press
Headline: Authorities: Iowa student killed by Mexican in US illegally
Lede paragraphs: “MONTEZUMA, Iowa (AP) — A man from Mexico living in the U.S. illegally has confessed to kidnapping college student Mollie Tibbetts while she was running in her small Iowa hometown, killing her and dumping her body in a cornfield, authorities said Tuesday.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the death of the 20-year-old Tibbetts, whose July 18 disappearance set off a massive search involving state and federal authorities.”
And so on and so on and so on.
Hours after the news broke, President Trump said this at a Tuesday night rally: “You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in, very sadly, from Mexico and you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful young woman. Should’ve never happened. Illegally in our country. We’ve had a huge impact, but the laws are so bad. The immigration laws are such a disgrace, we’re getting them changed, but we have to get more Republicans. We have to get ’em.”
That is what sells for Trump. Pure politics. Pure xenophobia, even though it appears that Rivera has been in the country for a while now and according to the AP, “Yarrabee Farms, a family-owned company that operates dairy farms in the rolling hills outside Brooklyn, said that Rivera had been an employee in good standing for four years and that it was shocked to learn he was implicated in the crime.”
“The company is owned by the family of Craig Lang, a prominent Republican who previously served as president of the Iowa Farm Bureau,” the AP story added. “A search of court records revealed no prior criminal history for Rivera in Iowa, and it’s unclear whether he had ever been subject to prior deportation proceedings.”
But that would go against the media narrative, right? That would confuse how the U.S. media is quick to jump on a suspect’s immigration status, right?
Meanwhile, the double standard is so clear because at the same time we heard about the Tibbetts murder, we heard about how Christopher Watts was charged in the murder of his pregnant wife and kids.
Here is how some of the same media outlets covered that tragedy:
The New York Times
Headline: Charged With Killing His Family, Colorado Man Turns Blame on Wife
Lede paragraphs: “The Colorado man who is accused of killing his pregnant wife and two daughters before dumping them at an oil work site told the police that it was his wife who strangled the children — and that he strangled her out of rage, according to an affidavit for an arrest warrant released on Monday.
The man, Christopher Watts, 33, had been having an affair with a co-worker, the police said, and had told his wife he wanted to separate during an emotional conversation in the middle of the night on Aug. 13.”
Headline: Chris Watts, accused of killing wife, children, hears charges against him
Lede paragraphs: “GREELEY, Colo. – The Colorado man charged in the deaths of his wife and two daughters appeared in court Tuesday to hear the nine felony charges against him.
Christopher Watts, dressed in orange and led in and out of the courtroom in shackles, acknowledged each of the charges after the judge read them.
He’s accused of killing his wife, Shanann Watts, and their two children, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3.”
The Washington Post
Headline: He said he killed his wife after she strangled their daughters. Prosecutors say he killed them all.
Lede paragraphs: “A Colorado man told police he killed his pregnant wife in a “rage” after she strangled their two daughters, according to an affidavit released by police on Monday after prosecutors formally charged Christopher Lee Watts with the murder of his entire family.
The bodies of Watts’s wife and children were found last week on the property of the oil and gas company he worked for near Denver.”
The Associated Press
Headline: Colorado man charged with murder in deaths of wife, 2 kids
Lede paragraphs: “A Colorado man told police that he killed his pregnant wife in “a rage” when he discovered she had strangled their two daughters after he sought a separation, according to an arrest affidavit released on Monday shortly after prosecutors charged the man with his family’s murders.
According to the affidavit, Christopher Watts told his wife, Shanann, that he wanted to separate when she returned from a business trip early on the morning of Aug. 13.”
Imagine if those four headlines about Watts read like this instead:
Charged With Killing His Family, US Citizen Man Turns Blame on Wife
Chris Watts, a US citizen accused of killing wife, children, hears charges against him
US citizen said he killed his wife after she strangled their daughters. Prosecutors say he killed them all.
US citizen man charged with murder in deaths of wife, 2 kids
CHARGES FILED AGAINST US CITIZEN IN COLORADO MURDERS
We fixed this headline, too. pic.twitter.com/os0WejjN8s
— Latino Rebels (@latinorebels) August 22, 2018
(By the way, we are still waiting for Trump and Pence to tweet about that tragedy, too.)
That is the double standard.
Let’s be real: if an undocumented immigrant is accused of murder, U.S. media outlets (from liberal to conservative) are quick to bring up the individual’s immigration status. Even though data proves that undocumented immigrants committing these types of crimes are very rare.
But why go with actual data and statistics, when we all know that “if it bleeds and if the person is undocumented, it leads,” right?
We end with these tweets to sum up what the real issue is:
Hey. Hi. Hello. If your Mollie Tibbetts story leads off with the suspect’s citizenship status, you’re part of the fucking problem.
— Jamie is a very clean, thoroughbred white girl. (@thewayoftheid) August 21, 2018
One of these tragedies is rare; the other happens to women every single day.
You can guess which murder #DonaldTrump has already mentioned.
— Renee Graham (@reneeygraham) August 22, 2018
All murders are heinous & deserve attention. My condolences to the Tibbetts family. But there is no doubt this story is being used to gin up anti-immigrant sentiment & distract from other issues. Outsized coverage also reinforces a norm that white lives matter more than others.
— Garrett Broad (@GarrettBroad) August 22, 2018
Dear Media: You can both be saddened & hurt by the tragedy of Mollie Tibbetts’ killing, call for her perpetrator to be brought to swift justice, AND opt out of using a tragedy to criminalize all immigrants as guilty.
— Alida Garcia (@leedsgarcia) August 22, 2018
Then there’s this:
hey i’m a member of mollie’s family and we are not so fucking small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals. now stop being a fucking snake and using my cousins death as political propaganda. take her name out of your mouth. https://t.co/xxZNBF0Uv9
— sam (@samlucasss) August 22, 2018