If you’re white and live in the suburbs, you’re the target of sensational media accounts of two teens killed in Detroit last week.
For the blood-thirsty media hoping to squeeze some pennies from a parent’s worst nightmare, it was the perfect story: Two white teenagers from Westland go missing after visiting a relative in Detroit.
But it gets better. Their “bloated, badly decomposed” bodies were found on the city’s east-side, giving off an “overwhelming stench,” according to a sensational account by the Detroit News.
Do you know where your children are?
The details of the scene were spelled out in detail, just in case you couldn’t yet smell the decay or picture the frightening neighborhood.
“It was pretty nasty,” a scrapper is quoted as saying after finding the bodies. “It smelled gruesome.”
If murder in one of Detroit’s most isolated and violent neighborhoods doesn’t keep you out of the city, maybe one Detroit News source will lend a hand.
“We don’t even have rats here because there’s nothing left,” Marvin Brown, 41, is quoted as saying. “It’s just the killing fields on the east side. There’s nothing here but the devil.”
Oh, after about 18 paragraphs of fear-mongering hyperbole, the story reveals that the teens may have been in Detroit … to buy drugs.
That wasn’t the case for at least five Detroiters who went missing since the Westland teens disappeared a week ago. But you won’t read about them.
TV reports were probably worse, with anchors promising to reveal “horrific” and “barbaric” details of the murder.
No doubt, the media accounts spurred fear, anger and racism – even though growing evidence suggests the teens were robbed during a drug deal.
“This is so sad,” a Facebook user wrote this morning. “It gives the impression that you can’t got into Detroit to visit your family without risking being shot to death.”
Another called for a Joseph Stalin-style forced relocation of Detroiters.
These predictable reactions are an example of the media’s power to influence attitudes about Detroit. If we formed our opinion of Detroit on media accounts, the city would be nothing but drugs, prostitutes and murder.
But the lazy, tabloid-style reporting isn’t seeking context, fairness or equality.
It’s about money – and fear.
Do you know where your kids are?
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.