Editor’s Note: It is now being reported that the young girl in this story lied about being attacked by three young boys at her school. But how news organizations initially handled the story remains problematic.
Three sixth-grade white male classmates are accused of pinning down a fellow classmate — a 12-year-old girl — on the playground and cutting her dreadlocks because they are “nappy” and “ugly.
There are so many awful things about this story. The story is awful enough: Three white male students at a Christian school pinned down a young girl, calling her names and cutting off her hair. But to make matters worse, news organizations clearly identified the victim’s race, but not the race of the three white male perpetrators. Why?
Let’s set aside, for the moment, that the location where the alleged attack took place is a “Christian school,” and that news organizations gave no analysis of the intolerance found here and the contradiction within that. Instead, we’ll focus on how news organizations reported the event in their headlines and first sentences of their stories– the lede or lead, in journalistic parlance.
Every news organization that did this needs to be called out and shamed.
Washington, DC’s NBC4 is one of the many news outlets that did not disclose the race of the male students in its lead. But it did identify the girl’s race.
This was NBC4’s lead at 8 p.m. Thursday:
“Three sixth-grade boys at a Christian school in Northern Virginia pinned down a black classmate and cut off some of her dreadlocks while telling her her hair was “nappy” and “ugly,” she told News4.”
In the lead, NBC4 identifies the victim as “Black” and her gender, yet they only identify the alleged attackers by gender.
They should have reported:
“Three sixth-grade white boys at a Christian school in Northern Virginia pinned down….”
“….pinned down a [no race identifier] classmate and cut off some of her dreadlocks while telling her her hair was “nappy” and “ugly.”
The lead is intended to highlight the nature of the attack: racist. That this is a racist attack is not made clear in NBC’s lead. And that’s a problem.
In its lead, NBC4 and other news outlets protect the main subject in this story by not identifying them — the attackers — as White, yet they identify the victim (“Black classmate”).
Even in the face of a violent, unmistakable race-based incident involving white people as the perpetrators, NBC4 did not put that they were white in the lead.
That’s not an oversight; that was intentional.