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Newsweek’s Hit Piece on Murder Victim Larry King

This article expresses the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the opinion of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Timothy Kincaid

July 21st, 2008

There are certain words and phrases that give a reader a sense of the perspective of the writer. And when discussing issues relating to orientation, some words and phrases suggest either a harsh hostility to gay people or a callous ignorance of our lives.

So it was with dismay that I read Ramin Setoodeh’s piece in Newsweek about the circumstances surrounding murder of Lawrence King. Setoodeh, in an effort to tell a “multilayered and complex” story, saw fit to use such language as “inappropriate, sometimes harmful, behavior”, “flaunted his sexuality”, “flamboyance”, and “pushed his rights”. These are all catch phrases that are most often heard from anti-gay activists when seeking to justify bigotry and discrimination.

Setoodeh uses these phrases to present a picture of Larry King, and one that is not complimentary. Unlike his murderer, Brandon McInerney, who “was smart” but “had his share of troubles”, for King the author had little good to say.

To Setoodeh, Larry was the primary source of disturbance on campus. He wore makeup and “thought nothing of chasing the boys around the school in [high heels], teetering as he ran.” He was “a troubled child who flaunted his sexuality and wielded it like a weapon”. “He went to school accessorized to the max” and would “sidle up to the popular boys’ table and say in a high-pitched voice, “Mind if I sit here?””

If there were any residents of Oxnard that didn’t view Larry as a prancing mincing menace intent on wreaking havoc on all around him, Setoodeh didn’t seem to find them. He found instead an attorney with a “gay panic” defense, a litigious adoptive father who resents the gay community for caring about Larry’s murder, and several teachers who objected to his effeminate ways.

In short, there’s very little in the Newsweek article that would not seem more at home on World Net Daily or a press release from the American Family Association.

And other than the briefest of disclaimers there is little to suggest that King was not fully to blame for his own death,. After all, he “sexually harassed” McInerney. He “was pushing as hard as he could, because he liked the attention”.

In addition to Larry King, there’s one other villain in Setoodeh’s tale. No, not the boy who pulled the trigger; he was being “bullied”, you see. The other responsible party is Joy Epstein, “a lesbian vice principal with a political agenda.” In Setoodeh’s words, “Some teachers believe that she was encouraging Larry’s flamboyance, to help further an “agenda,” as some put it.”

It may be that Ramin Setoodeh was limited by the nature of the legal system. While the defense attorney has an interest in pushing a “blame the school, blame the administration, blame the victim, blame anyone but McInerney” spin, the prosecution was not willing to try the case in the papers. And with Larry King’s allegedly abusive adoptive father motivated by his lawsuit against the school, there is no one left to speak for Larry.

Setoodeh may have let inexperience and limited input sway his judgment into writing a hit piece on the victim. He is, after all, an odd choice for an in depth article about social interactions in an elementary school. His prior articles appear to consist primarily of celebrity interviews and entertainment commentary.

But though Setoodeh had not written substantive work for Newsweek before this, it is not the first time that he has shown awkwardness around the subject of homosexuality.

In December of 2005, he phrased a question to Jake Gyllenhaal that makes presumptions about Gyllenhaal’s expertise on gay issues and also wild assumptions about what “people” believe.

“Brokeback Mountain” is a breakthrough movie. Why do you think people oppose gay marriage?

Similarly, his odd questioning of Clay Aiken and whether the Kelly Ripa incident was homophobic cut short his interview with the former American Idol star. In fact, I was surprised at how frequently the term “awkward” appears when googling Mr. Setoodeh. And often when it didn’t, it should have.

I don’t know Ramin Setoodeh’s orientation or his personal tastes or biases. Nor do I know his reasons for writing an article that serves as little more than a press release for the defense on this murder case.

But whatever his motivations, it is clear to me that he was tragically under-qualified for the job and his lack of experience showed in his use of language and in his final product.

Comments

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Stefano A
July 21st, 2008 | LINK

Very sell said, Timothy.

I’m please that someone other than myself felt this way. I’d been waiting on someone in the blogosphere to label this piece for what it is. So far, you are the only one who has so succinctly identified its faults.

Thank you!

Jarred
July 21st, 2008 | LINK

After all, he “sexually harassed” McInerney. He “was pushing as hard as he could, because he liked the attention”.

I imagine there are many overly-aggressive heterosexual men and boys who might want to think long and hard about the implications if any court ever chooses to legitimize this defense.

Johno
July 21st, 2008 | LINK

Thank you, this article really disturbed me. Setoodeh seems to have never considered the possibility that Larry’s actions were self-defense; that his rising ostentatiousness was a rebellious response to the “sexual” harassment he no doubt endured on a daily basis, just as many gay people (and straight people,) do for any kind of gender non-conformity at that age.
If Setoodeh’s position is correct and un-biased, then why didn’t we see articles like this after Columbine? Those victims supposedly pushed their killers to the breaking point with gay taunts as well.

The idea that Larry is to blame for his own death because he wouldn’t “tone it down” is sick. The insinuations that Epstein is in any way to blame for offering Larry support and trying to make a safe environment for him are incredibly sick.

This article deserves protest.

Stefano A
July 21st, 2008 | LINK

Setoodeh seems to have never considered the possibility that Larry’s actions were self-defense; that his rising ostentatiousness was a rebellious response to the “sexual” harassment he no doubt endured on a daily basis,

That was one of the things that bothered me a lot about this article as well, Johno. That no consideration at all was given to that perspective.

Mombian » Blog Archive » Coverage on LGBT Youth Stirs Debate
July 21st, 2008 | LINK

[...] Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin has even harsher words about the article and its author, whom he says has had other “awkward” moments when covering gay issues. Alex Blaze at Bilerico also says, “The level of dissection of Larry’s flamboyance and the lack of attention given to any of the other possible contributions to the shooting sends the message that Larry got what he deserved.” [...]

Sportin' Life
July 21st, 2008 | LINK

Thank you.

I hope you intend to forward your excellent commentary directly to the editors of Newsweek. The article actually shocked me with the extent to which it tried to place blame on King himself for his own murder. And on Epstein. Very shameful.

AJ
July 22nd, 2008 | LINK

Timothy Kincaid wrote:

“I don’t know Ramin Setoodeh’s orientation or his personal tastes or biases.”

This might help:

http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/2002/novdec/departments/studentvoice.html

The irony is enormous.

AJD
July 22nd, 2008 | LINK

The portrait I got from the article was of a disturbed, confused kid who used over-the-top flamboyance as a defense mechanism. I didn’t get the impression that the article was like a press release from AFA.

Still, Setoodeh failed to take into account that however inappropriate King’s behavior toward other boys might have been, he was a product of his environment. He grew up being mistreated and responded by lashing out. It reminds me of Malcolm X’s allegory of the wolf asking the sheep or the rapist asking the raped why the latter hates the former.

Most disturbing of all was the portrayal of his killer as some sort of victim. There’s a big difference between taunting kids who make your life difficult and retaliating by shooting someone. McInerney could easily have gone to authorities at the school to report what was going on and, should they have failed to ameliorate the problem, he could have taken it all the way to the school board and then sued the district if nothing was done.

Anyway, I just checked and confirmed that Newsweek has a letters section, so I’d suggest you guys take your bitch pills and start typing…

K.
July 22nd, 2008 | LINK

Absolutely disgusting! How did that make it past the editor?

SharonB
July 22nd, 2008 | LINK

I agree! PLS send your critique to the letters section.

Offsprung > Mombian » Does Coverage of LGBT Youth Blame the Victim?
July 22nd, 2008 | LINK

[...] Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin has even harsher words about the article and its author, whom he says has had other “awkward” moments when covering gay issues. Alex Blaze at Bilerico also says, “The level of dissection of Larry’s flamboyance and the lack of attention given to any of the other possible contributions to the shooting sends the message that Larry got what he deserved.” [...]

Newsweek cover story about Larry King described as a “hit piece” « Unfinished Lives
July 23rd, 2008 | LINK

[...] Lawrence “Larry” King invites readers to conclude King provoked his own murder.  Kincaid’s responseto the Newsweek article says author Ramin Setoodeh employed biased language, anti-gay catch [...]

AJD
July 23rd, 2008 | LINK

I typed Setoodeh’s name into Google and got the following article that he wrote for The Stanford Daily in 2004: “Homoeroticism returns to the big screen in ‘Starsky.’”

I haven’t seen the “Starsky & Hutch” movie, but that doesn’t look like a headline the copy editor wrote.

The title would generally seem innocent, but coupled with the content of Setoodeh’s Newsweek article, it raises suspicions.

http://www.stanforddaily.com/article/2004/3/5/homoeroticismReturnsToTheBigScreenInStarsky

Stacy
July 24th, 2008 | LINK

i just read the entire NEwsweek article right now and i am absolutely disgusted with how that author portrayed that boy..as if it matters how he dressed in school..and certainly had this boy gone the correct route and alerted authorities that he was “being basically stalked” by Larry, this situation would have ended a lot differently..the nerve of Setoodeh to imply in any way shape or form that Larry was at all to blame..

Special Comment: Newsweek magazine and the Re-victimization of Larry King « Unfinished Lives
July 24th, 2008 | LINK

[...] a related Box Turtle Bulletin article which also calls Newsweek’s journalistic practices into [...]

Plea Deal for Larry King’s Murderer: The Inside Story « Unfinished Lives
December 19th, 2011 | LINK

[...] accounts of what young King wore to school, and his responses to McInerney’s bullying.  Ramin Satoodeh, reporter for Newsweek, wrote a cover story on King that was devastating–likening the boy to a monstrous little [...]

Variety Hires Self Loathing Queen Ramin Setoodeh As NY Film Editor
September 11th, 2013 | LINK

[...] remember Setoodeh went to Oxnard to cover the cold-blooded murder of gay teenager Larry King and instead ran a hit-piece arguing that it was all King’s fault. His murderer, Brandon McInerney, was a sensitive and [...]

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