‘Nightly News’ Leads With ‘Jena 6,’ Ignores Beaten White Kid

When members of the Duke University lacrosse team were falsely accused of raping a black stripper last year, media focused great attention on the woman in the middle of the controversy, and the supposed crime.

Yet, as pointed out Thursday by NewsBuster Matthew Balan, as the press report activities in Jena, Louisiana, the name of the white boy who was beaten by the "Jena 6," Justin Barker, is rarely mentioned, and the assault which precipitated the arrest of the "6" is either ignored, or downplayed.

Such was certainly the case on Thursday's "Nightly News" which led with the day's civil rights protests in Jena, but, for all intents and purposes, ignored the assault which precipitated the arrests of the six students in question.

Ironically, NBC's Brian Williams began the broadcast: "Even though a lot of Americans still don't know the story of what happened in the small town of Jena, Louisiana, tonight thousands of Americans have converged on that town."

Well, Brian, Americans who watched your broadcast last evening still don't know the story of what happened in this small town because you and your correspondents didn't mention Justin Barker's name, and severely downplayed what the Jena 6 were arrested for.

Here's how correspondent Martin Savidge described the issue at hand:

The journey to Jena began 13 months ago when white students at the local high school hung nooses from a shade tree after an African-American student asked to sit beneath it. Over the next few months, there were verbal and finally physical confrontations. In the end, six black students were charged with crimes, initially including attempted murder. But no whites, not even those who admitted hanging the nooses. Seventeen-year-old Mychal Bell was the first to go to trial and found guilty. Last week his conviction was overturned, but the high school football star remains in jail.

Amazingly, Savidge didn't mention Barker, nor the fact that he was allegedly beaten by the six boys in question. However, the name of the person found guilty was prominently displayed.

Sadly, ABC didn't do a much better job. With this also the lead story of Thursday's "World News with Charlie Gibson," the anchor glossed over the seriousness of the beating in question (from closed captioning):

Tensions escalated, until the day six black students attacked a white student. The students were arrested, charged with serious crimes.

ABC's Terry Moran downplayed the crimes:

Six, black teenagers, some minors, charged as adults, after a schoolyard fight that resulted in no serious injuries.

The good folks at NBC and ABC should not only be ashamed of their casual treatment of the attack on Justin Barker, but also should be humiliated by being outdone by their competitor at CBS.

After all, during the "Evening News's" coverage of the events in Jena, CBS News national correspondent Byron Pitts at least had the decency of informing viewers of the crime the Jena 6 were accused of:

Soon protests lead to fistfights, a school building set on fire. And finally, six black students stomped and beat a white classmate unconscious. They were charged with attempted murder.

Unfortunately, even CBS chose not to put a name and a face on the person who was attacked.

As a result, it once again seems that media in our nation, when it comes to stories surrounding race, aren't interested in merely reporting the events. Instead, underlying virtually every article and news segment involving such delicate matters is a desire to inflame racial tensions in our society rather than assist in quelling them.

Such was certainly the case in how Hurricane Katrina was reported in 2005, how the Duke lacrosse "rape" was covered in 2006, and how the Don Imus and Jena 6 stories have been presented this year.

Makes one wonder how much better race relations would be in America if media weren't always doing their darnedest to fan the fires of discontent.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.