Sunday, September 20, 2009


Does a murder involving someone from Harvard or Yale deserve more coverage than someone from another university, even someone from USF? It appears so. The murder of Yale University grad student, Annie Le, has received A LOT of media attention. As slate.com reports,

"The New York Times, one of several Ivy League house organs, has already published five articles about Le's disappearance and murder and the apprehension of suspect Raymond Clark III. The Boston Globe has published at least six stories about the case, and the Washington Post has run at least three briefs from the Associated Press. The Times of London, published five time zones away, can't seem to sate its appetite for Annie Le news. Even the proletarian New York tabloids—the Post and the Daily News—have gone ape for the story."

But why? Is there something about an Ivy League student/professor that is more alluring to the public? Are they worth more because their IQ’s are above average? Is it the public that is obsessed with the Yales and Harvards of the nation, or is it the media’s fixation? Furthermore, is it ethical to give more coverage to one murder over another based on something like the location it took place at or the person who was killed?

Here’s some articles about the crime itself… Just google “Annie Le” and thousands more come up.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/14/nyregion/14yale.html?scp=3&sq=Annie%20M.%20Le&st=cse

http://www.wfsb.com/news/21022287/detail.html

This article says Le’s brother was overwhelmed by the media coverage of his sister’s death:

http://www.news10.net/news/story.aspx?storyid=67274&catid=2

Here’s some discussion of whether Ivy League murders are more newsworthy:

http://www.slate.com/id/2228705/

http://www.newser.com/story/69731/ivy-league-crimes-are-more-equal-than-others.html

http://features.csmonitor.com/globalnews/2009/09/18/media-frenzy-over-yale-murder-draws-criticism/

11 comments:

caitlindee said...

A murder from a student attending an Ivy League school like Yale obviously doesn't deserve any more news coverage compared to a student murder from a small university or community college, and I don't think that news teams intentionally cover more Ivy murders. Instead, I think that it depends much more on the newsworthiness of the story itself.

Annie Le's story is particularly newsworthy because she was a young female student and innocent victim, because she was supposed to get married the day police discovered her body, and because after sorting through all the surveillance footage, they have still yet to find any evidence of what really happened to her, so the case is very much unsolved. Also, Yale experienced another situation like this about a decade earlier. The case involved another young female student and the murderer has yet to be determined. The two stories could even be linked, for all we know.

I think that the NY Times and Boston Globe only covered more of the story because they're both in neighboring New England cities in accordance to the Connecticut university. It would be understandable if newspapers from California or Texas published a story or two on Le's murder because it's an unsolved murder case, but it isn't as critical to cover for them like it is for East Coast news.

I would agree that there is something fairly alluring to the public about an Ivy League student death but in the sense that a college like Yale is well known and has a positive reputation in the academic world, so it's assumed that the majority of the students who attend the college are "good" and stay out of trouble. This makes the murder more daunting because it's believed Le had no enemies, no one had any reason to kill her.

Is it ethical to cover one murder over another based on the location or student involved? I think so. And I know that sounds pretty disheartening, but when it comes to national or international news coverage, you have to think about the story and whether or not it's compelling enough to publicize on such a great scale. If every news station and newspaper were to cover every murder in the U.S., our papers and TV news would be full of epilogues. If a murder of anyone takes place, usually the city's local paper or broadcast network will cover the story, but it's when a story like Le's (a young girl who stayed out of trouble to be married only days after she was murdered and with little to no evidence) becomes a bigger deal. It's all about circumstance.

caitlindee said...

not epilogues *eulogies (woops)

stephanie said...

http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/09/16/texas.art.student.slain/index.html?iref=newssearch

A Texas art student was 'slain' only a few days after Le but was 'under the media radar' as CNN explained in the story above. I agree with Caitlin and the fact the story has to be alluring enough for the public to stay engaged but I do feel the story perhaps is being covered too much (in comparison to other murders across the country or other ground-breaking news like the terrorist arrest in Colorado). I would not go as far to say that it is unethical for the media to focus on one murder based on location but it is indeed almost disappointing that many of my friends know a lot about the Le death but not about other newsworthy stories at the present moment.

Lauren said...

I think this story received so much attention because it was not only tragic, but sounds kind of like a lifetime movie. Annie was a student at a prestigious University, she was supposed to get married the day before she disappeared, she was thought to be a run-away bride, but instead it turns out she was murdered. What also provokes the media to keep talking about it is that they still haven't determined who is responsible for her death. Is it ethical to cover her murder more so than any other murder? No. I just think the circumstances in Annie's case are extraordinarily strange... which attracts attention.

Brian Brause said...

I agree with everyone that this story seems pretty alluring to the media, especially given that she was a young innocent girl and about to be wed. I think some murders may get overlooked in other places, but its important to remember how much press coverage Virginia Tech got a few years ago. Of course that was a much bigger deal: open shooter on campus, but I think it does depend on the incident that happens. The closer you are to an event, the more press you are probably going to hear. It's hard to judge whether more stories should get more coverage or not and whether its an ethical issue. It is acceptable to the public to hear about a murder for a few weeks, so this event does not seem to be crossing any ethical boundaries. You can hear about missing people or local murders every night on the local news, but they generally don't get a large amount (if any) national coverage. Again it really depends on what happened.

Melissa said...

I think it's not just the high profile of Yale, but the fact that America gravitates towards grizzly murders. Didn't they find her stashed in a wall or something? There's something terrifying about it. The media thrives on it. It's like a real life episode of Law and Order. I would guess the reason people care so much about Yale is what has already been stated -- it's a historic and prestigious university with a legacy and reputation. People care about scandals at places they've heard of more than places they haven't, I think. On the subject of ethics, is it right to sensationalize any murder? This case is so high profile that we have turned it into a real life made for TV movie just like Lauren suggested. Is all the press really so necessary?

Chloe said...

I don't think it is unethical to raise so much publicity toward a death that occurs at an Ivy league institution over another University. Location is part of the story's appeal. Yale is held on such a high pedestal so no one expects gruesome murders to occur there. It's like if two girls were to be murdered in the same way and one of those girls was at Disneyland while the other was at Six Flags Marine World. I think it would be more scandalous and news worthy to cover the Disneyland murder because it is more pure and less trashy than Marine world. So In the case of this college murder, Yale is Disneyland and other less prestigious universities would be Six Flags. Speaking of colleges, there was this hilarious article in GQ last month on the 20 most obnoxious colleges. I sadly could not find it published online.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

I like your comments about how many details contribute to the story's legs, from the initial absence of a body to the impending marriage to the fact the East Coast media elite are snobs when it comes to the Ivy League. I certainly think the proximity of Yale to NYC, still the news media center of the country, has something to do with the attention the press gave the murder.

I'll add one thing. Some of you have noted how other murders occuring at more or less the same time have gone uncovered nationally. That really is a signficant ethical dimension: Who is ignored in the news? Somewhere in my files I have a year-end story from the Oakland Tribune (or maybe the old Examiner?) summing up its year-end homicide coverage. The paper vowed to cover every killing in Oakland (or SF) during the calendar year. Since so many murders happen in poorer minority communities, many are reduced to a single line in a roundup and sometimes ignored altogether. That's the real ethical challenge, paying attention to communities other than those that reflect the lives of middle-class news consumers, the kind advertisers are so eager to reach.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

One thing I have to add and will bring up in class, I hope. *She wasn't a blonde white woman.* The news media's obsession with young blonde white women, either murdered or abducted, has been widely noted. I'm not saying the news media made a conscious effort this time to extend its prurient curiosity to a young woman of color. But it's a fact that there has been a pernicious hierarchy when it comes to deciding whose tragic death is news and whose isn't.

Meghan said...

You make a good point, Chloe.. And I like your theme park metaphor!

Jacqueline Williams said...

I agree with Caitlin and just because she was a student at an Ivy League does not make murder more notable than others.
However, what does make it more newsworthy than other cases, is the way in which it was done and the details surrounding the case.I think that any story that involves a young college woman who is about to be married and is violently murdered by someone who may or may not have had a relationship with her or may have been obsessive over her in some way draws the attention of the public.