So far, news outlets careful not to say Tulsa shootings were racially motivated

Tulsa World | NPR | Los Angeles Times
Maybe it’s the Trayvon Martin case, or maybe it’s just the system working as it should, but news organizations are moving cautiously on the story of this weekend’s shootings in Tulsa, Okla., which may — may — have been racially motivated.

A headline on TulsaWorld.com says, “Two arrested in north Tulsa shootings that claimed three lives.” (Here’s the front page of the paper.) The first line of Zack Stoycoff’s story is: “Tulsa police have arrested two white men who are accused of killing three black residents and injuring two others in a shooting spree that authorities deemed ‘unprecedented.’ ”

A few paragraphs down, the story quotes an FBI agent who says, “It is way too early to call this a hate crime.” Indeed, the suspects were charged today, but not with hate crimes.

Cheryl Corley’s report for NPR is headlined ” ‘Premature’ To Call Tulsa Shootings Hate Crimes.” A CNN email alert I saw didn’t mention race until the last line: “Authorities are working to determine whether the violence was racially motivated.”

One fact in this story is repelling a simple narrative: Jake England, one of the two accused shooters, is alternately described as white and Native American. A Los Angeles Times article quotes Susan Sevenstar, a family friend of England’s:

“If anybody is trying to say this is a racial situation, they’ve got things confused,” said Sevenstar, who described England as Cherokee Indian. “He didn’t care what your color was. It wasn’t a racist thing.”

And yet some posts on England’s Facebook page used racist language. (You can read an unbowdlerized version here.)

In March, the Associated Press updated its Stylebook to say that racial identifications of suspects “should be removed when the individual is apprehended or found” but “in other situations with racial overtones, use news judgment.”

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  • Alfred Ingram

    Walks like a duck. Quacks like a duck. Looks like a duck. Posts on Facebook like a…, complete with racial slurs. This guys father was killed by a black man. It was declared to be self defense. Seems to come from a family of ducks, but let’s call the murder of people who had nothing to do with his father’s death revenge. Who knws? This guy could turn out to be a swan.

  • http://twitter.com/shelly Shelly Brisbin

    I hadn’t heard about these shootings until this morning (weekend = not reading news feeds, what can I say?) so I was surprised when I woke up today to hear “Five blacks were shot in Tulsa.” And this was the first line in the radio story. Headlines may be soft-pedaling the racial component, or waiting until more facts are in, but I found this NPR newscast lede extraordinary. Even more so, now that I read your survey of new coverage.