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August 24, 2006

Won't Somebody Think of the (Other) Children?

Lee Siegel, berating James Kincaid, writes:

Like a lot of academics who had their heyday in the theory-ridden eighties, Kincaid thinks that the more media attention something gets, the less reality it has. He apparently has never tried to imagine kind of society would let the murder of a little girl pass without massive amounts of attention and anxiety.

Does Siegel mean the murder of a white, upper class, beautiful little white girl? Because we live in a society where all manner of children are slaughtered for all manner of reasons and nobody ever bats an eye. In DC, every once in awhile you'll read about a toddler struck by a stray -- or non-stray -- bullet, but you're very unlikely to read about him again. We're well able to let the murders of small children pass without massive amounts of attention -- it's only when they look like our children or, better yet, idealized versions of our children, that CNN sends in the camera teams.

August 24, 2006 | Permalink


Hey Ezra, if you want to see some fun anti-Siegelian screeds, check out his comments threads. He should really learn not to call other writers "very snide and superior".

All joking aside, though, in his most recent piece, he accuses Kincaid of being a pedophile in no uncertain terms. I know nothing about Kincaid personally, and never heard of him before these columns, but I would imagine its a pretty serious lapse of journalistic ethics to call someone a pedophile without evidence, right? Then again, if anyone believes TNR follows the proper methods of the business, I have some e-mails from Steve Gilliard to sell them.

Posted by: jfaberuiuc | Aug 24, 2006 10:44:01 AM

I happen to think that the Ramsey case got way to much media attention. I don't disagree that a certain portion of this attention is because she is while, upper class etc.

There are other factors though, and they are probably more signifigant. One is the element of mystery the case had originally. A child killed by a stray bullet from a drive by my be tragic, but it isn't really mysterious. Another factor is initial possibility that it was the parents who did it. Parents killing their kids generally creates pretty good media attention. Also, as I recall she was originally missing, not just killed and the initial 'search' phase tends to drum up more publicity than if it was just a simple murder.

Of course the most signifigant is that she was a child beuty queen and thus very photogenic.

Anyway, the point of all this blather is that while I think we should be consicous of racism, there is also a danger of being over-conscious of it and attributing to racism things that are not.

There are of course many white kids who are killed who don't get this sort of media attention as well.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Aug 24, 2006 10:47:46 AM

What about the children, won't anybody think of the children?!?

It's amazing how many people think only of kids that look something like their own when they say that. And it is relevant whether one speaks of media coverage or just what kids are exposed to. You'd be hard pressed to find the police, for example, speeding down a white bread, suburban nighborhood, chasing a suspect. Yet you find them doing just that in shitty little neighborhoods that contain just as many kids for them to run over - but it's ok because they're poor kids.

Posted by: DuWayne | Aug 24, 2006 11:20:56 AM

I agree there are other factors at work that made this story zing more than average. But class is certainly part of it. I was talking to a client from Phoenix yesterday, and apparently they recently arrested two snipers who had been randomly killing people (it's not a story I'd kept up with). He said there had been a number of killings in a not-so-great part of town, and people sort of noticed, but things got serious (in terms of media coverage and police focus) when the killing shifting to upper middle class areas. And the guys were caught. Happens around the Dallas area all the time (where I live)-- killings in certain areas are time of day, in other areas it's a media frenzy.

Posted by: Jeff in Texas | Aug 24, 2006 11:21:55 AM

Shorter Dave Justus: It's OK for the media to obsess over a miniature version of Where the White Women At, as long as there's a plausible narrative to be hyped. On the other hand, when lots of little girls die for all sorts of other reasons that are actually within our control (not invading their country on false pretenses, for example), it's not really so interesting.

Posted by: paperwight | Aug 24, 2006 11:37:41 AM


I don't think I said that at all. I merely think that calling everything racism deflates the value of the term. If we routinely call things that are not racism, or only tangently connected to racism racist I suspect that pretty soon real racism will be ignored.

I am also unsure where you got the whole Iraq angle from.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Aug 24, 2006 11:59:36 AM

What DAVE JUSTUS said. Both times. Shorter paperwright: I'm a college undergraduate eager to prove my moral bona fides.

Posted by: slickdpdx | Aug 24, 2006 12:26:37 PM

...we should be consicous of racism, there is also a danger of being over-conscious of it and attributing to racism things that are not.

You just don't get it. It's allways about racism....any chance they can.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 24, 2006 1:05:29 PM

Dave, I'm willing to cop that it's a class problem as well, not just race. But when was the last time a major news network spent days and days lamenting the death of hundreds of little Iraqi children, with lots of nice soft-focus pictures of their cute faces, when we know exactly how that happened? Or days and days on even one little black girl or little latino girl who was killed or kidnapped with the murder not having been solved. Or actually had a segment reporting on what one person who might have had nothing to do with the case, but is under arrest for confessing is EATING AND DRINKING ON HIS EXTRADITION PLANE RIDE. Go ahead. I'll wait.

That, BTW, is the Iraq angle: days and days spent in the media on one unusual case with a nifty narrative and a photogenic victim essentially chokes out any meaningful reporting on what is probably the most important thing our country is doing. I invite you to speculate what that looks like to people whose daughters and nieces look like little Iraqi girls, not like little Jon Beney Ramseys. Pretending that this stuff isn't related, that media resources spent on one don't crowd out the other, is at best naive and at worst deliberately disingenuous.

As for slickpdx and Fred Jones -- well, as Republican talking point trolls, there's nothing they can say that's not generally a smear or a lie. I will note that Fred is wrong about one thing: with him it's not usually about race. For Fred, it's more about anti-homosexual bigotry most of the time.

Posted by: paperwight | Aug 24, 2006 1:36:10 PM

I guess part of the reason our news is so crapilific in the US is because people like Siegel don't call bullshit on this nonsense.

I am astounded that we should even have to explain why the "lastest white girl missing story" or "shark attacks" just don't cut it as a good news program!

I suppose that it's a lot less expensive (and of course, less dangerous) for FOX to send people to Aruba and Boulder then to get a good office up and running in Baghdad.

But we can still call bullshit on the crap they feed us

Posted by: geoduck2 | Aug 24, 2006 2:21:11 PM


I think I said at the very beginning that I though the Ramsey thing was way over publicized.

Actually trying to understand why it was overpublised, rather than making up reasons for it seems important to me though.

As I said originally, the vast majority of killings (and kidnappings etc.) of children black, brown or white don't recieve hardly any notice. Very very few of these stories become media sensations. IF everything else was equal, one would expect that more of these media sensations would be about white kids that other groups simply because their are more (American) white kids.

I still don't quite get why you feel a need to bring Iraq into this. While I can understand you not liking the news coverage Irag has gotten, it seems impossible to claim that there hasn't been enough coverage of Iraq from a quantantive point view. Certainly many people, from all perspectives make claims that the quality of reporting on Iraq is poor, but it seems hard to say that there hasn't been a lot of it over the past several years.

From another perspective of course, Iraqi children who die from war get a whole lot more press coverage than African children who do. My guess would be that this is not due to racism, but the fact that the Iraqi deaths are more connected to the U.S.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Aug 24, 2006 2:41:49 PM

I hope Siegel and Marty Peretz understand they're about to get their asses sued for serious money, and they're going to lose.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Aug 24, 2006 4:16:56 PM

I hope Siegel and Marty Peretz understand they're about to get their asses sued for serious money, and they're going to lose.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Aug 24, 2006 1:16:56 PM

Indeed. I think this is the first time I've ever seen 'real-time' libel. Siegel's in real hot water here. Shoulda stuck to headwear.

Posted by: Max Renn | Aug 24, 2006 5:38:59 PM

Do otherwise normal parents think of harming their children? Yes. (http://www.publicaffairs.ubc.ca/media/releases/2005/mr-05-039.html)

Do most parents harm their children? No.
Do most parents think harming children is okay? No.
Do many parents with harming thoughts worry that they have them? Yes.

So there is a distinction between having a thought and carrying that thought out.

And acknowleging that having a thought may be normal is not at all the same as saying that acting out that thought may be normal too.

My read of Kincaid is similar. He acknowledges that many people do have sexual thoughts concerning children and teenagers. And after all, isn't that obviously why we have statutory rape laws? But few people will say that these if these are in some sense normal thoughts for adults to have, perhaps those adults that have them worry about them, and need to find some way to dismiss them in themselves.

Siegel says that Kincaid's observation that many otherwise normal people may think of children sexually means that Kincaid wants to see the acts themselves condoned. I think Kincaid is pointing out what a weird society we have, with teen slut clothes, and bratz

Siegel is idiot. I don't know if what he wrote is grounds for a libel suit, but if so, I say go for it Kincaid.

Posted by: jerry | Aug 24, 2006 6:32:56 PM

Wow, I just read Siegel's post where he says that a quote on NAMBLA's website is definitive proof that Kincaid agrees with NAMBLA.

Wow, I sure hope he gets sued.

Posted by: jerry | Aug 24, 2006 6:39:29 PM

Dave Justus wrote, Of course the most signifigant is that she was a child beuty queen and thus very photogenic.

My main reaction to the beauty queen angle was "what kind of freaks put their daughter in a beauty pageant at that age?" I think---hope---it's probably the most common reaction.

Posted by: liberal | Aug 24, 2006 6:39:59 PM

jerry wrote, I don't know if what he wrote is grounds for a libel suit, but if so, I say go for it Kincaid.

Besides the question of whether the comments are defamatory, there's the question of whether Kincaid is a public figure or not.

Posted by: liberal | Aug 24, 2006 6:42:09 PM

Not really. If he were so inclined, Kincaid would be perfectly entitled to sue in Britain, where public figure have just as much protection as anyone else.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Aug 24, 2006 9:22:22 PM

Besides the question of whether the comments are defamatory, there's the question of whether Kincaid is a public figure or not.

Publishing his name makes him something of a public figure. But I didn't see anything in this post that struck me as libel.

Posted by: DuWayne | Aug 24, 2006 9:26:24 PM

Another reason WalMart matters. Don't forget the media.

WalMart is one of a large number of stores that uses PRN to broadcast FoxNews and other "pre-selected" items for "news" broadcast. PRN boasts that "Each week, more than half the US population visits a store included in PRN's network." This to people who have no choice but to listen to FoxSpin while they wait in line to complete their purchases. Think THAT'll make a difference on electoral outcomes in 2008?

Don't think that's a media hegemony?

Just one more reason WalMart matters.

Posted by: raisin | Aug 25, 2006 12:14:56 PM

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