tampabay.com

Critics: Media ignoring slayings

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 20, 2007


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - In a powerful demonstration of the way the Internet has opened up the mainstream media to intensive second-guessing, bloggers are charging that news outlets have ignored the rape and murder of a young Knoxville couple because of the racial implications of the story.

The two victims were white; the five defendants are black.

The critics include mainstream conservatives, such as the National Review, and white supremacists. They have drawn comparisons to the Duke lacrosse rape case and wondered why the killings of Channon Christian, a 21-year-old University of Tennessee student, and her 23-year-old boyfriend Christopher Newsom are not getting the same attention from what the bloggers regard sneeringly as the liberal media.

"Oh, that's right, the victims were WHITE!" several conservative blogs have observed.

Local media in Knoxville have covered developments in the carjacking case since the bodies were found, and the Associated Press ran stories that were transmitted nationally. But the killings have received scant attention from other media outlets.

"The Internet has been basically chastising the mainstream media now, it seems, since the Internet opened up, " said Aly Colon at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists that owns the St. Petersburg Times. "I mean, as soon as somebody had an electronic Internet megaphone, the opportunity to throw brickbats at the media just got amplified from the back yard-over-the-fence to an e-mail or a blog. That isn't necessarily new, but I think what you are witnessing may be is an increasing amount of that taking place."

Christian and Newsom were last seen Jan. 6. They were carjacked as they were leaving a friend's apartment. Newsom's shot and burned body was found the next day along railroad tracks, and Christian's body was discovered two days later in a trash can at a house rented by one of the defendants. Both had been sexually assaulted. Household cleaner had been poured in her mouth to remove evidence, according to court records.

Some Internet postings have suggested the killings should be treated as a hate crime. But Police Chief Sterling Owen said: "We have no evidence to support the notion that this was a race-based crime. We see this as a cold-blooded murder."

Christian's father, Gary Christian, wore a Confederate flag T-shirt to the first hearing for one of the defendants and then pointed at the man as if firing a gun. But family lawyer Joe Costner said Channon Christian's parents have repeatedly said they do not believe their daughter's killing was race-related.

Lemaricus Davidson, 25; his brother, Letalvis Cobbins, 24; George Thomas, 24; and Cobbins' former girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, 18, are charged with murder. A fifth defendant, Eric Boyd, 34, is being held on a federal charge of being an accessory after the fact, accused of helping Davidson.