Saturday, May 9, 2009

Who killed Kwanzaa Diggs?

  • In June 2008, Washington, D.C., Judge Zoe Bush committed Kwanzaa Diggs to juvenile detention after Diggs was convicted of robbery.
  • By April 24, 2009, Diggs was back on the streets. Specifically, he was in the 900 block of Barnaby Street, SE. He had been shot multiple times, and two other teenage victims were also shot.
  • Kwanzaa Diggs died at age 17.

Colbert I. King has an excellent column today in The Washington Post about the Diggs shooting, part of a series of columns King has done about the failures of the D.C. juvenile justice system.

This is not only a failure of the D.C. city government, but also a failure of the media to ask the kinds of questions, and tell the kinds of stories, that King is asking and telling.

The shooting death of Kwanzaa Diggs merited a mere two sentences in a Washington Post crime round-up column. Meanwhile, the Washington Post devoted front-page treatment to the colonoscopy of a panda at the Washington Zoo.

Dear God, what has happened to journalism in America? Is it any wonder that people hate "the media" so much? Here you've got the case of a 17-year-old shot dead, two others wounded, a crime that indicates a systemic failure of local government, and the local paper is too busy covering pandas at the zoo?

John Kerry can't fix this problem. Some editors need to be fired, and some reporters need to be reminded that their job is to cover the freaking news. When somebody gets shot to death, that's news.

Am I the only journalist on the planet who's ever seen Teacher's Pet? Clark Gable plays a tough, cynical newspaper editor, and Doris Day plays a journalism professor. The Gable character disdains the professor's lofty pretensions about the "civic duty" of a newspaper. The turning point of the story is where Gable takes a stabbing death and turns it into a really great human-interest story.

Murder is news. Rape, robbery and drug busts are also news. And guess what? Crime coverage, if done right, sells papers. If the Washington Post can't be bothered to cover a shooting that leaves one teenager dead and two others wounded, what the hell is the point of publishing a newspaper?

Good cops-and-courts reporting used to be a staple of American journalism. Was such coverage sometimes lurid and sensationalist? Sure. But it sells newspapers. The problem is that too many people in our newsrooms for the past several decades have failed to understand that they're in a business, the object of which is to sell the product and make a profit.

The pretentious Doris Day professor types have triumphed over the cynical Clark Gable types. We've got plenty of pundits to lecture us about "fine-grained local coverage," but good luck getting a Harvard magna cum laude to go out and cover the freaking news.

The newspaper industry is dying, and Kwanzaa Diggs is still dead.

UPDATE: The Associated Press can't be bothered with Kwanzaa Diggs and the collapse of the juvenile justice system in our nation's capital. But the five-year anniversary of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts? 2,700 words!

UPDATE II: Moe Lane at Red State:

Honestly, I think that everybody involved would be happier if we just established once and for all that the Watergate scandal was a disaster for the newspaper industry; it encouraged an entire generation of reporters to go out there and try to change American society, instead of simply documenting it.

Nail on the head, Moe. All The President's Men solidified this idea of journalism that "makes a difference" in the heads of a generation of journalists. It not only encouraged a lot of what is called "Pulitzer bait" -- the five-part series -- but it generally attracted to the business a lot of liberal do-gooders who thought of themselves as superior to their readers.

Last year, there was a certain news story that caused Ace of Spades to erupt in fury: "Stop telling me what to think!" (I wish I could find that post, because it was good.) Nobody wants to do the straight-ahead Joe Friday "just-the-facts-ma'am" news story, because there is no prestige in that kind of basic reporting.

It is no surprise, really, that the great scandals of American journalism -- Stephen Glass in 1998 and Jayson Blair in 2003 -- occurred about 30 years after Watergate, by which time the starry-eyed liberal do-gooders who entered the business in the 1970s had become editors and journalism professors.

UPDATE II: Welcome, Ed Driscoll readers!


  1. Were they to cover the story as you desired, they would inevitably lead the story in a direction where it suggests the need for yet more gun control laws.

    Is that what you want?

    The Democrats control that urban zoo, as well as most other urban zoos in the country, and they're not about to allow their control to be questioned by virtue of crime, so they dodge their own responsibility by pushing the need for additional gun control legislation, in the absence of which, they're incompetence is excused.

    As for crime sells.

    I don't know about others, but I'm roughly your age, and over the last several years, I've taken to not watching the local news and no longer subscribing to the paper which I used to deliver when I was a kid, as a paper boy, id est, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

    And the reason I know longer watch the local news or read the local paper is that I simply can't take reading about the rapes, the murders, the violence, the sexual obsessions and the murder/suicides. Not to mention the fires.

    I've had it, over 35 years of unrelenting violence, pathology and disaster.

    Chesterton said if you want to get off on a bad mood for the day, read the morning newspaper. And I now know exactly what he means.

  2. The fundamental problem is that "journalists" have become advocates, not reporters actually interested in news. Thus, Anonymous is right that the end result of the reporting aspect of the story would lead to "anaylsis" and gun-control advocacy in this case. But, I agree with you, R.S. What in the hell happened to the five W's-who, what, when, why and how. OK, four W's and an H. But, way back when I was studying journalism, even my libertard professors advocated that over anything else. It is all how crime is reported. Yea, OJ Simpson is a sonofabitch who should be tied up to Ol' Sparky. But, was that really as important as crime in the inner city? Gang problems? No. But, advocacy and the celebutardization of the media is what is killing the media business in general. We are just old timers in this new age. Thank God we can blog because it may be what brings back real journalism.

  3. I was just a boy when the trade of reporting was turning into the "profession of Journalism". The majority of the reporters in the first half of the 20th Century had no degrees, they were the bright kids of farm and factory families.

    Somehow that mostly went away. Reporters back then had brothers and cousins in the Service or "on the cops" as it was known. Some ran errands for people like Owney Madden and Dutch Shultz.

    Today the less bright of upper middle class and upper class kids go to J school. If she can't be trusted with a piece of the family business, off to J school. That's what is killing the news business. There are no more Ernie Pyles but lots of Jayson Blairs.

  4. It's not just cops and courts but every aspect of local life that our newspapers have stopped covering, by and large. Most of your average news section of a paper is full of national news (cribbed largely from New York Times stories or AP wire copy).

    It's not just news but also local news broadcasts. I remember when the local stations in my area used to lead the news with coverage of the Redskins. It would infuriate people who didn't like sports but it gave the news an undeniable connection to the community. Nowadays, not so much.

  5. Some other black person killed Kwanzaa Diggs, which is why it is not reported.

    Seattle has a serious problem with steet assaults, among other crimes. One was covered by the local press because it resulted in the death of a local character, Tuba Man. This involved three teenagers, whose race was unmentioned in many stories, and only came out when and Urban League official was quoted saying it couldn't possibly be them. They plead guilty in juvenile court a month later. Others have been mentioned on talk radio, one on the local TV as a humaninterest story as the victim's brother was collecting money for medical expenses.

    Crime has gone from being reported with the races of the perpetrators and victims carefully concealed to just not being reported.

  6. Along with what else is being said, I have to admit having no interest in certain crimes. Why? Because they are expected and common. However, when those crimes jump into my demographics, the "news" completely ignores them, even actively hides them. I see the reporters as partners in the crimes.

    Beyond, I think if someone started a paper that covered the extensive crime rate, who is committing the crimes by demographics, and the specifics, they would very possibly end up being shut down by the feds. I guess, when telling the truth equates to thought crimes, the news is finished as a real service.

  7. Guys, the reporters that would have covered this either have been laid off or have been ordered to not leave the news room (ie, don't generate expenses). News papers have cut their staff to the bare bone and have just enough news room and production staff to crank out a product for distribution to toss in the drive.

    That is, unless they have stopped distribution (Detroit Free Press). It isn't a news game or a editorial game, it is a money game.

  8. I left the papers years ago - and I mean YEARS ago when I saw plain as day that they were nothing more than mouthpieces for leftwing leaders and ideas. News? What news? The news is only reported when it can be used as a tool for advancing the Liberal agenda. When so-called journalists can't find news to push Liberal ideas, they just make it up.

  9. Last year, there was a certain news story that caused Ace of Spades to erupt in fury: "Stop telling me what to think!"This Ace of Spades post is from two years ago, not last year, but it sounds like it might be the one you're thinking of. I (or rather, Google) couldn't find the exact words "Stop telling me what to think" anywhere on Ace's site, but this seems to come the closest.