Here’s a question that would seem to have a simple, obvious answer: When is it ok to describe an alleged multiple murderer with a history of violence as a “gentle” man?
The correct answer is of course “never,” but the New York Times managed to get this question wrong in a profile of alleged Planned Parenthood killer Robert Lewis Dear over the weekend.
Here’s the opening of the story, preserved for posterity by journalist Jack Mirkinson:
— Jack Mirkinson (@jackmirkinson) November 29, 2015
Yep. A “a gentle loner,” except for all that violence and murdering. It’s a bit like calling someone a “Good Samaritan — who sometimes throws babies into traffic.”
After assorted folks on Twitter pointed out that “gentle” was perhaps not such a good adjective, describing-an-alleged-violent-murderer-wise, the editors quietly removed “gentle,” ultimately replacing it with “itinerant.”
But as Jim Naureckas of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) points out, this was not the only way in which the Times seemed to be weirdly giving a pass to Dear. Times writer Richard Faucett managed to work some strangely exculpatory descriptions of Dear into a profile of the shooter, as remembered by his ex-wife.
As Naureckas notes, we find the word “gentle” once again applied to a man who was, by all accounts, anything but gentle.
She recalled a big man, well-groomed, gentle and pleasant, but not much for chitchat.
The original headline to the piece,
Ex-Wife Recalls Colorado Gunman as Imperfect but a Good Man
And then there was this bit, echoing one of the standard ways in which people try to excuse domestic violence:
Mr. Dear could be angry at times, she said, sometimes angry with her. But he was the kind who usually followed a flash of anger with an apology.
Yeah, because THAT’S HOW ABUSE WORKS. Phony remorse is one of the primary ways abusers hold onto those they abuse. Hell, it’s one of the freaking stages in the Cycle of Violence:
While the Times has changed the headline of this piece, the rest of this language remains in the story, unchanged.
Naureckas makes the obvious but necessary point:
Needless to say, the New York Times is not in the habit of going to the family members of people accused of committing terror in the name of Islam and reprinting their fond recollections. Nor is that the treatment given to African-American men accused of killing cops. In fact, African-Americans killed by cops are more likely to get the “he’s no angel” treatment from the cops.