Bad Disability Journalism: Filicide Stories

Here are two stories recently on murder and attempted murder of disabled children. They follow the same pattern I discussed here in which the murderer is praised as a kind caregiver who inexplicably murdered their children/attempted to murder. No disabled people are quoted. We learn little or nothing about the victim of violence, their story erased. The event is treated as isolated, rather than as part of a pattern (it happens about once a week).

  • ABC News says “overwhelmed” mom tried to behead son.
  • WaPo says “doting grandmother” who spent years caring for kids murdered her granddaughter. Worse, what we learn about a surviving child in the second paragraph is that he has incontinence. I should not know anything about this teenager’s bathroom support needs unless I am in the position of needing to assist him. 
Reporters reporting on violence against people with disabilities should reach out to leaders in the disability community with expertise on violence. This is journalism 101. More broadly, tell victims’ stories.

Crime reporting is a highly specific beat. A crime reporter is going to cover violence in lots of different communities. I believe, though, that they generally do better in other communities where they see patterns and talk to local members of those communities. For disability, each murder is treated as a one-off tragedy in which the killer’s “hardship” narrative takes prominence over the victim’s story.

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