Blaming the victim in car crashes: “Journalists need to scrutinize driver’s actions as much, if not more, than the behavior of pedestrians or cyclists.”

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Hello … THUMP THUMP … is this thing on?

Bill, Susan, Jason, Chris, et al … this is the Columbia Journalism Review speaking, not some foaming-at-the-mouth Baylorite radical anarchist trying to take your cars away from you.

When covering car crashes, be careful not to blame the victim, by Meg Dalton

Please feel free to click through and peruse the entire piece … and then can you explain what you’re doing to cure this bias at the News and Tribune?

PEDESTRIAN (AND CYCLIST) BLAME is the predominant framework in a lot of news coverage, according to Angie Schmitt, an editor of Streetsblog, a news site about transportation reform. Journalists will report that the victim “darted” into traffic, a verb you see almost exclusively in stories about traffic deaths. Or they’ll emphasize that the victim was jaywalking, texting while crossing the street, or not wearing a helmet.

“The helmet fixation redirects attention away from the overarching problem of vehicular violence, assisting in its denial,” according to a report released last month by the University of Heidelberg. Even in cases when a helmet would not have prevented death, the absence of one is usually noted, as in The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s 2009 coverage of the death of a young cyclist, Sylvia Bingham. Wearing a helmet would not have made a difference in the outcome of the crash, according to Bingham’s doctor. But the reporter, in the paragraph immediately following that statement, noted Bingham wasn’t wearing a helmet and included two additional incidents in which cyclists lacked them.

Journalists need to scrutinize driver’s actions as much, if not more, than the behavior of pedestrians or cyclists.

Whether it’s speeding, running a red light, texting, or just a general lack of attentiveness, journalists need to scrutinize driver’s actions as much, if not more, than the behavior of pedestrians or cyclists in these situations. These oversights can be startling. For instance, local television station KTSM solely focused on the victim following a fatal 2016 crash in El Paso, Texas. Eduardo Dill attempted to cross a street in his neighborhood in his electric wheelchair when a driver struck him. The police cited Dill’s “failure to yield the right of way” as the contributing factor in the crash, and so did the station’s story.

In reporters’ defense, Schmitt says, crash information usually comes from flawed police reports, which inform the news coverage. Those reports tend to reflect a survivor’s bias since, in crashes with fatal outcomes, the pedestrian or cyclist is not around to share their side of the story. Instead, the reports are usually based on a single eyewitness—the driver.

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