Susan's Blog

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Autism Never Justifies Murder

I’m really concerned with the trend in the media to report the murder of autistic people with a tone that justifies these crimes. Of course the majority of autism parents do not kill their children. Thank God. But reporting these stories with this slant does not necessarily open up “discussion” or the marketplace of ideas. This kind of reporting separates focuses on the child’s autism and therefore pulls it out of the population as a significant factor in the crime. It is very much as if we would see headlines that might say, “Jew Indicted of Financial Crime.” or “Gay Teacher Preys on Students.” These very suggestions bother you, right? You’d never see them now. To suggest that the murder of an autistic child “underlines the strain in the family” is taking a stereotype and showing it in one particular bigoted light. This is nothing short of biased reporting, and it is very serious journalistic misconduct.  My credentials here? I graduated from the Annenberg School of Communication and I have been writing essays and articles — both personal and reported — for almost 20 years. In the Washington Post, Boston Globe, New York Times, and for affiliates of NPR.

As a journalist, I can affirm that there is no “angle” to the murder of a child — or an innocent adult. If the issue of the article is lack of funding and resources, then that is what the article should be about. If the article is to highlight a person’s struggle in life — let’s say someone who is homeless or chronically ill — you write about that. You can write about his desperation and his worst fantasies. But you must make it clear that they are his life, his thoughts and that the newspaper does not connect such feelings to justification of crime. Journalism 101: you describe something as neutrally as possible. You interview those affected by this event. You interview those in charge and try to discover why they believe this happened — on as many sides as possible. If this is a trend of alleged or proven murder, you must report it in those terms.

And so if you are reporting a crime, a murder of a child, you might report that the murderer stated that he felt he could not “handle the child because of ____” but you then follow up by talking about how he will be charged because he is the alleged perpetrator or a crime. Maybe you will report how there may be an upward trend of parents murdering children for various reasons. How the autism community is holding vigils for such heinous actions, how other organizations are putting up billboards to inform parents of where they can get help. Perhaps there would be a bullet list of resources for if you are at the end of your rope. Samaritans, Suicide Hotline, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty To Children.

Those are the kinds of angles for stories like this one, not the particular, singular challenge of autism.

The murderer may believe what he wants to believe. But to take his side, even subtly and then in the same article write about the hardships of autism with a tone of objectivity is a dangerous and false form of journalism. Call it an oped, an opinion piece, where your credentials must be established in the byline, where your personal biases are noted.

My angle in this blog post is as a journalist. But my heart in this blog is as a mother of an autistic young man, and it is pierced through by what has happened to this poor 20 year old man in Michigan, the latest victim of a crime that is not at all justified and shame on the reporters who abase themselves with this sort of slanted writing.

Yes, I judge the reporter. And yes, if this father is proven to be the killer, then yes, I judge him, too. Guilty of murder. Leave autism the fuck out of it.

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