Category Archives: Media Criticism

Wanted: foreign affairs journalist to cover events in Ferguson, Minneapolis, and Cleveland.

Sometimes I think journalists don’t even read their own articles — or internalize their own hot air.  In this Sunday’s New York Times, Ellen Barry writes about a murder case in India in which caste affiliation gets in the way of justice.  Early in the piece, she grills the local constable, gets pushback, and examines her navel a bit:

Over the past decade, in Russia and then India, I have been asked versions of this question hundreds of times: Who are you to come here and tell us what is wrong with our system? And it’s true, the whole enterprise of foreign correspondence has a whiff of colonialism. During the years I have worked abroad, Americans’ interest in promoting their values in the world has receded, slowly and then precipitously. I doubted the regional hegemons filling the vacuum would do better, but still, I wasn’t sure it was such a bad thing.

(Emphasis, as the law nerds say, added.)  So, cool, I think, she’s just a little bit self-aware about her privileged position and first-world filter.  But after reporting that the local justice system refused to recognize a murder as a murder — based on caste loyalty — she sheds her self-awareness like a gossamer scarf:*

Sometimes it seemed that the European legal system, with its liberal emphasis on individual rights, had settled only lightly on a country fixated on the rights of groups. Political leaders have driven this deeper into the culture: Equality, in India, is equality among groups. Justice is group justice.

Perhaps her next colonial assignment should be Ferguson.  Or Minneapolis.  Or Baltimore.  Or Cleveland.  Or New York.  I’d be interested in the promotion of American values in those far flung locales.


*I’m picturing a blonde woman — perhaps in a perfume ad — running in slow mo as the scarf of self awareness floats gracefully up and away from her.**

**Note the latest in accessible images:  the image-free image description.

New/old rule: no one gets to criticize the way other people mourn

The days since the attacks in Paris and Beirut have followed a predictable Scold Cycle:

  • Massive coverage by Western news sources of the attacks in Paris.
  • Outpouring of sympathy for Paris with associated profile-photo-changing, Marseillaise-singing, and awkward-French-speaking.
  • Outpouring of hypocrisy-pointing-out with calls to acknowledge the recent attacks in Beirut.

Rinse repeat.  Although I guess this blog may be the next round in the cycle:  the criticism-of-hypocrisy-pointing-out.  But ever since Republicans decided to launch a media campaign denouncing the way grieving liberals spoke at Paul Wellstone’s funeral — one of the most craven political acts in a sea of cravenness — I’ve decided that people get to say pretty much whatever they want when they are grieving.  Perhaps all the Tricolour profile photos belong to people who have traveled to France, or have loved ones there.  Or maybe it is because they identify with white Europeans more than brown Lebanese.  I don’t know.  Let them process their shock and grief for a bit before telling them that it’s racist or colonialist.

Corollary:  this is not the time to point out that France has done all sorts of First World colonial bad shit.  Yes.  True.  This is not the time.  Like that time you attended the funeral of a guy who had done both good stuff and bad stuff in his life.  The funeral, right then, was not the time to point out the bad stuff.

Obviously, the media are in a different situation.  They need to be more evenhanded in the way they cover violence.  Yet the American media still cover the rest of the world according to Spy Magazine’s “Death News Equation:”  a calculation that involves the number killed or injured, the “sensitivity . . . of Times editors to the episode,” and the proximity of the incident to Times Square.  And by “sensitivity,” I think they meant “resemblance of the victims to actual Times editors.”  That equation still holds up, though I’ve always thought — based on my experience living in Taiwan — that it was a fairly universal phenomenon.  The day Benigno Aquino was assassinated, the banner headline in the main Taiwanese newspaper read, “China Airlines service to Philippines suspended” with a smaller headline and article below explaining that Mr. Aquino had been shot on the tarmac after disembarking from a China Airlines plane.  We’re all about ourselves, wherever we are.

“The Case Against Gay Marriage: Top Law Firms Won’t Touch It”

The Case Against Gay Marriage: Top Law Firms Won’t Touch It –

Here is what I wrote to the author:

I find it funny that the unwillingness of big law firms to handle cases that might affect their bottom line is getting a lot of attention around the marriage equality issue. We run a small civil rights non-profit that files lawsuits to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act, and honestly, big firms that will represent tobacco companies and death row inmates won’t touch our cases. Why? Because we are asking their [potential] clients to be accessible to people who use wheelchairs, to deaf and hard of hearing people, to others with other disabilities. It’s not front page news; it’s business as usual for us.

Here is what I wrote on Facebook:

Oh cry me a fucking river. Your position is unpopular. Deal with it. Grow some balls and speak up for what you believe in. It’s not “crushing dissent” when you self-censor for economic gain.

Honoring our Dead

[I am honored to provide a platform for Corbett’s latest guest post. – ed.]

“Her life was not worth living.”

“He was such a burden to his family.”

“The parents suffered so much.”

“It’s understandable.”

“There’s no crime here – they did a merciful thing.”

This is how the media often reports on the murders of disabled people. The reports are full of sympathy for the murderers and short on compassion for those murdered.  Disabled people’s lives are framed as useless, tragic, suffering. Media writers ignore the joys and passions of the victims – maybe because that disrupts the sympathy narrative for the murderer.

Since 2012 on March 1st an international Day of Mourning vigil is held to honor and remember those disabled people killed by family and caregivers.  Some vigils also include those murdered by authority figures, such as police and school personnel. This year there are 104 names on the list. These are just the people who got caught. Research by Dick Sobsey and others show that a great many acts of violence against disabled people are never caught. In one chilling report, he discovered that 25% of the deaths of people with cerebral palsy were murders. Even when the murders are reported, the punishment for the murderers is often light.

If my writing seems drier than usual, it’s because I am holding my breath and trying to keep my teardrops off the keyboard while I type. It’s hard to sit with these stories. Hard to know how easy it is for those that we, disabled people, rely on to kill us. Hard to read the sympathetic media reports that say our lives were not worth living. Hard to know that the murderers know that even if they are caught there will likely be few consequences. Hard to sit with these facts while we are fighting every day for society to become just a little bit more accessible.  Hard to look into the faces of these murderers and know that a great many people support them.

So on Saturday I am going to attend my local vigil and honor those killed. I will surround myself with people who know that disabled people’s lives are valuable. I will not let those murdered be forgotten.


Find an in-person or online vigil here

2014 list of names and causes of death

Dick Sobsey

Kassiane (direct and has profanity)

Ibby Grace

Zoe Gross (who started the vigils) blog

Bad Cripple

s.e. smith

What’s the wheelchair equivalent of black face? (Guest post!)

[I’m very excited to present a guest post by Frances Lively.  She is responding to Joanne Ostrow’s August 9, 2012 column in the Denver Post.]

Dear Ms. Ostrow:

I have been a subscriber to The Denver Post for a very long time and always enjoy reading your column.  You are a good writer with an enjoyable style and an intelligent approach to television matters.

I wondered, however, about one segment of your “Good News, Bad News,” column in the August 9, 2013, issue, concerning diversity.  You are correct in noting that there are far too many white males and too few Hispanics featured in TV shows.  But how can you say it represents a positive step forward for diversity to have Blair Underwood — an able-bodied person, albeit a member of a minority group — portraying a person with a disability?  This casting makes the same mistake that “Glee” made in one of its teenaged characters and does not really advance inclusion of people with disabilities in our society.

I understand that the networks worry about ratings and would prefer to take their chances on a bankable star in the main role in a new show, but I would hope that you could at least point out this irony in your column rather than lauding the networks for this short-sighted casting.  The irony of your comments only increases with your follow-up regarding Michael J. Fox, who does, indeed, have the illness that is to be portrayed in his new show, but who is himself a very well-known, long-time white male star.  Perhaps your “good news” instead should have been that there are good actors available who happen to have disabilities and who would love the chance to be featured in a network television show.

Please do not file my message under the heading of “Can’t please all the people all of the time.”  Instead, give me credit for not lighting into you regarding your description of Underwood’s character as “a highly capable, sexually active paraplegic.”  Time does not permit a discussion of all of the problems with that statement.

I hope you will put my letter in the file for “How can we keep networks from being ignorant.”  I’m sure many of your readers would appreciate your using your position in our community as a critic to nudge the networks in a better direction.  Thanks very much for your time.


Frances Lively

Ms. Ostrow responded:

Thanks for writing.

Agreed, it would be better to have a disabled actor playing a disabled character. but at least the character exists.

I’ll return to this topic in the future and keep your comments in mind.

Meanwhile I hope if you watch “Ironside” you’ll see what I mean about his action-hero antics…