ADVANTAGES

In comparing the media coverage of Charles Bishop and John Walker Lindh, the ways in which media coverage was altered to mirror perceived changes in the individuals' racial identities is striking. Charles Bishop, who was first thought to be white, had the typical “what went wrong with his upbringing?” coverage until it was discovered that he was half-Syrian. At that time, his coverage became less favorable, and his ethnicity became sufficient explanation for his crime. In contrast, John Walker Lindh was initially described as the American Taliban who fought against the United States in Afghanistan. The media repeatedly showed a photograph of Lindh with long dark hair, a beard, and a face darkened by dirt. He was dubbed “The American Taliban,” and his darkened features made him appear to be something other than a white American. Once the media started showing pictures of Lindh with shortened hair and a clean face, it became clear that he was white. At that point, his coverage became more favorable. Some members of the media empathized with him and began to compare him to their children. The media coverage of Lindh's plea agreement was also very tame. There was hardly any controversy surrounding his plea agreement even though he was the first and most visible person to date to be sentenced. Given the nature of his offense, one would think more controversy and outrage might have resulted from his twenty-year sentence. Some would have argued that the sentence is too short or too long, or that Lindh should have been condemned to die. Because of the intense media interest in the events of September 11th, one might have expected that the coverage of Lindh's plea bargain would be more extensive. Apparently, the American public was not troubled by or interested in a plea bargain involving a young, white, middle-class American, who fought as a Taliban warrior.

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