When murder is politicized


There's a story that's running currently in a well-known American paper that is exactly the type of thing that critics of modern journalism -- which is most of us, nowadays -- have been arguing has been missing in today's world of shrinking newsrooms and warped priorities.

It's investigative reporting on an issue that is locally important to its readers. It's pointing up major flaws in the hometown police department. What's more, the story is a good read that's presented with all the high-tech bells and whistles that you'd want in 2008 -- in an era when news organizations need more Internet traffic to survive, it is driving a ton of traffic to their site. Rather than dump a ton of information in a large unreadable blob, like newspapers did in the 1980s when circulation started dropping, the story has been neatly re-packaged into 12 bite-sized parts.

If you've read this far, and you're one of the handful of readers around here who cares about journalism reform, you'd probably be saying "awesome" and "right on" to the newspaper involved.

Now, what if I tell you that the local city is America's city, Washington, D.C.?

And that the murder victim is Chandra Levy?

Did your heart just drop? Did your opinion instantly change? Based on the amazing amount of scorn that's being heaped on the Washington Post for running this series, it probably did. Because the Levy story was so overcovered in 2001 -- not in the Washington Post, which should be covering an unsolved local murder, but foisted on national viewers by CNN, MSNBC -- and became shorthand for the national (again, not local) media obsession with sensationalism in the months right before 9/11 -- people judge her case on emotion now, not on reason. (The other criticism, which is why is the Post writing about Levy when most unsolved murders involve blacks, is a more valid one, in my opinion,)

Reason states that an a botched probe by your local police -- and check out who was D.C. chief in 2001; it might interest Philadelphians -- is worthy of investigative reporting. But when a young murder victim becomes political shorthand for the national media's failings, it's harder for that individual to get justice. I feel bad for Chandra Levy's family.