Where was our attention focused?
Since Christmas there has been a welcome lull in local, regional, and even national news. Stories seem to bubble quietly in a cold, wet winter background as we slide into the new year. The filling of my email inboxes, text messages, and cell phone push notifications blessedly slacked off for the holidays.
Of course, the right wing rage machine kept cranking away. My electronic feed from the Epoch Times continued apace. The Epoch Times is considered eminently trustworthy, a must-read “news” outlet, by an alarming number of my Republican friends and acquaintances. The ET presents me with a steady stream of click-bait headlines worthy of the old National Enquirer, headlines suggesting new ground-breaking information about the horrors of vaccines, Hunter Biden’s laptop, and the revealed injustices against “free speech” on Twitter before Elon Musk welcomed back trolling misogynists, white supremacists, and Christian Nationalists.
The one story that was fed to us every day over the holidays by local (and national) news outlets was the grisly murder of four young students at the University of Idaho. The publicly know facts remain slim: three young women and one young man were murdered, apparently in their sleep, in their apartment, by at least one assailant wielding a sharp weapon on November 13th. After more than a month a 28 year old Ph.D. student in the department of criminal justice and criminology who was studying at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, a short drive away from the U of I, was arrested in Pennsylvania and charged with the murders. He will be extradited. That is most of what is publicly known, and yet the reading and watching public all over the nation seems insatiable for every detail and the media obliged (or was it the other way around?).
I am as horrified by this story as the next person—but reading each succeeding article adds very little to what I actually know. One day there will likely be a trial, then a book, then maybe a documentary like the recent Netflix series on Jeffrey Dahmer, but for now most of what we read and hear is speculation, quotes from (usually un-identified) sources said to be friends, relatives, and acquaintances of the victims and the accused—plus a accusation made by one deranged Texas TikTok mystic. Nonetheless, the articles keep appearing—and we keep reading them.
I find myself stepping back to ask why we, and the media, are so captivated by this particular murder story while most unsolved murders, even local ones, disappear from the news in a just a few days. I suspect that the answer lies in our inability to mentally distance ourselves from these young people and their families. These were promising lives of three young women and one young man snuffed out in their prime for no reason we can identify. There is no hint of nefarious activity that might, in some warped person’s mind, have marked them for murder, nothing about their behavior that can set them apart from the people we are, were, or know. Their deaths are terrifyingly random and far too close to home geographically and emotionally. They remind us of our own, our children’s, and our friends’ potential mortality. We cannot look away—and, importantly, the mostly white, college-educated reporters covering these murders also cannot look away—it is all just too close. The articles keep coming and we keep reading with morbid fascination. It would be good of us to remind ourselves why we cannot break free—and to remember that other crime victims probably merit—but often do not receive—such rapt attention.
I mostly do not do Twitter, but occasionally I get wind of something that makes me smile. I leave you today with a link to 19 year old Greta Thunberg’s deflation of puffed up he-man Andrew Tate, a put down that not only rocketed to one of the most liked tweets of all time, but which may have led to Tate’s and his brother’s arrest soon thereafter in Romania on a charge of human trafficking. The exchange was covered by dozens of media outlets. It case you missed it, here’s a link to one of them. Good for Greta!
Keep to the high ground,