LA Times joins “gay panic” smear of Lawrence King

Timothy Kincaid

July 5th, 2011

Brian McInerney (left), Lawrence King (right)

From the beginning, reporters covering the murder of Lawrence King have had difficulty in finding the right tone and delivery. Few stories are more challenging than that of a 14 year old boy shooting his schoolmate in the back of the head at point blank range in the middle of his classroom.

Two young lives have been destroyed. Lawrence King is dead, and Brandon McInerney will spend much of his life behind bars. And reporters have sought to make that point rather than just tell the tale of a murderer and his victim. Sadly, this effort has evolved in some media from telling both stories to a cover-up of the facts and a retelling in which King was the culprit and McInerney an innocent who defended himself in the only way he knew how.

I will concede that it is difficult for a reporter to tell the victim’s side of the story. While defense lawyers invariable seek to influence public opinion (and a jury pool) with press conferences full of alternative possibilities, prosecutors are generally more circumspect. And while Ventura County senior deputy district attorney Maeve Fox did finally release information about McInerney to counter the defense’s fairy tale, it is not her job to defend King’s reputation.

That role is often filled by family of the victim. But Lawrence King’s adoptive parents were estranged and more interested in trying to find a way to make a buck off of King’s murder. They had no interest in defending the reputation of the weird kid who had “never bonded with them” and whom had been shipped off to a youth facility. Which leaves no one – no one at all – speaking for Lawrence.

But that is no excuse for shoddy journalism, deceptive reporting, and homophobic insinuation.

Perhaps the worst example was the hit piece on Lawrence King penned by Ramin Setoodah, a celebrity interviewer, for Newsweek. Setoodeh’s piece was the first to characterizate King as a bully and sexual aggressor who tormented Brandon McInerney. Parroting McInerney’s attorneys, Setoodeh laid out the gay panic defense, tossing in stereotypes and insinuations and “a lesbian vice principal with a political agenda.”

But while Newsweek’s article was unforgivable, one expects that hard news media will avoid such tactics. So it is even more disturbing to see the LA Times join in on the character assassination of Lawrence King.

But today’s article by Catherine Saillant about the start of the trial does just that. It seeks to minimize Brandon McInerney’s crime by diminishing the value of the life of his victim. Saillant does not see one child shooting another in the back of the head in his classroom but rather a sexual abuse victim acting in self defense against a sexual aggressor, a tormentor, a homosexual menace.

I don’t claim that Saillant has an anti-gay bias. Her use of the somewhat ominous phrase “young homosexuals on school campuses” instead of “gay youth” may be accidental or out of ignorance. For all I know, she is an ardent supporter of equality.

But her article is a textbook example of journalistic gay panic: the presumption that heterosexuals are entitled to live a life free of gay people, and that a gay person acknowledging their own existence is such a threat to heterosexuals that it justifies murder (or, at least, is a mitigating circumstance).

In the presumptions of journalistic gay panic, it is relevant to their murder whether a child was or was not effeminate or sometimes wore “women’s accessories”. In the presumptions of journalistic gay panic, the flirtations of a girl to a boy are very very different from the flirtations of a boy to a boy.

Take this paragraph from the article:

Fellow students say the two had clashed for days over King’s expressing his attraction to McInerney. King, who was living in a children’s shelter because of problems at home, had recently gone to school wearing eye makeup and women’s accessories.

The first sentence is a false presentation of the issue. “Fellow students” may have said just about anything, but based on the fuller coverage we know that King had been picked on by McInerny for a long time, long before the “flirting” began, and this eventually became his way of fighting back. But Saillant presents this as though it was out of the blue. She sets up King as the unprovoked aggressor.

And this cannot be chalked up to a lack of information. In a February 2009 Times article written by Saillant herself:

“Witnesses said King was usually not the aggressor. But after months of teasing by McInerney and other male students who called him “faggot,” he had began to retort, according to prosecutors.”

But it is in the second sentence that Saillant steps from being a reporter of a one-sided version of the story to active manipulator. Here she introduces an irrelevant comment to tie two separate ideas together. She’s reporting (not repeating what “fellow students” say) that King went to school in makeup. And – without any reason to mention it – she also says he was “living in a children’s shelter because of problems at home.”

Tying the two unrelated comments into a single sentence, Saillant has achieved the presentation of King who was so out of control with his crazy cross-dressing that he couldn’t even get along with his parents.

But the worst was just previous:

…provoked by King’s repeated sexual advances.

Screech… slam on the brakes.

Ask yourself – outside of this case, just in conversation – when you hear the term “repeated sexual advances”, what do you think of? Is is, oh say, “Will you be my valentine?”

Or is it perhaps an advance that is sexual in nature and repeated?

And again, this is not unfamiliar territory to Saillant. From that 2009 article:

In her statement of facts, Fox contends that King and McInerney had an acrimonious relationship for months prior to the shooting. They sparred with “typical 8th grade, back-and-forth insults; some sexual, some not,” she wrote.

But today, those “back and forth insults, some sexual, some not,” have become one-way “repeated sexual advances”. If Saillant is going to just parrot the accusations of McInerney’s defense, she has an obligation to inform that King’s “advances” consisted of flirting, at most, and did not consist of acts of adult sexual aggression. On the other hand, King’s “death” consisted of death.

This is not journalistic balance. This is advocacy for the defense’s gay panic strategy.

And look at how McInerney is discussed:

The defense could face a challenge in portraying McInerney as a naive youth. At the time of the shooting, he looked young and sweet-faced. In court recently, the defendant was a tall, lanky young man dressed in crisp Oxford shirts and khaki pants.

Salliant doesn’t talk about the difficulty of his defense having to deal with Nazi materials, racist symbols, or McInerney’s long history of terrorizing King. No, no, it’s his current age that is a problem.

I don’t know Saillant’s motivations. It may be that she is among those who think 14 is too young to be tried for murder. Maybe she wants to look at “all the circumstances” and see McInerney as “a victim too”. Perhaps wants to “present both sides”.

And the easiest way to do that – as McInerney is a pretty nasty neo-Nazi with white supremacist connections who ran in a pack of bullies – is to paint King as some sort of monster, a horrifying gay drag queen monster – worse even than McInerney. Besides, who is going to complain?

Generally character assassination of the victim is left to the defense team. But it seems to me that Saillant, has joined the cause.

Now, there is a legitimate case to be made that McInerney was too young and immature to be fully cognizant of the consequences of his actions. But it is unethical and immoral to take the shortcut of bashing King to exonerate McInerney.

Dave Rattigan

July 5th, 2011

I thought it was clear the paragraphs you object to were intended to reflect the defense’s arguments, not necessarily the plain facts of the case.

Dave Rattigan

July 5th, 2011

Let me explain further, in case I assumed too much in that last comment.

I’m referring to this part of the LA Times article:

______________________

McInerney’s lawyers, Scott Wippert and Robyn Bramson, say their client doesn’t deny the killing. But they argue it was voluntary manslaughter because the adolescent was provoked by King’s repeated sexual advances.

Fellow students say the two had clashed for days over King’s expressing his attraction to McInerney. King, who was living in a children’s shelter because of problems at home, had recently gone to school wearing eye makeup and women’s accessories.

McInerney was humiliated by King’s advances, his attorneys said. He came from a violent home and decided to end his misery in a way that made sense to him — with a gun. He shot King “in the heat of passion caused by the intense emotional state between these two boys at school,” Bramson said last week outside the courthouse, where jury selection was underway.

______________________

It perhaps could have been even clearer, but to me it was clear *enough* that Saillant was describing not her own view of the case, but that of the defense. She was showing what the lawyers are going to argue in court.

The details about the makeup and the child shelter sound arbitrary outside of that context, but they’re crucial to the defense argument. They’ll try to make Lawrence King look outrageous and in-your-face (the makeup, the advances, etc) and troubled (the problems at home, the child shelter) to make McInerney look like the victim.

Saillant could have written differently to avoid misinterpretation, but it seemed clear enough to me she was portraying the defense’s interpretation of the events, not her own.

Timothy Kincaid

July 5th, 2011

Dave,

When one quotes the defense attorney and uses his words in quotes, that’s fine. When one takes that defense and presents it as though self-evidential and supported by the witness of “fellow students”, one becomes an advocate.

I would have been fine with “But they argue it was voluntary manslaughter because the adolescent was provoked by what defense characterizes as “King’s repeated sexual advances. Instead Saillant supports their characterization by presenting it without quote or challenge and by supplying the inaccurate “Fellow students” claim. That middle paragraph doesn’t even have a “they said” disclaimer but is simply there as though it were unchallenged fact.

And, after writing this, I think what makes me the most furious in all of this is that Saillant wrote the entire article about McInerney. Go back and just skim it; every single paragraph is about him, his perspective. It’s McInerney’s story that is being written and played out in the press.

I know that this is about McInerney’s trial, not King’s trial. But no where in this article is there any consideration of King who is just.. a provocateur, almost a nameless faceless homosexual predator from a 1950’s black and white movie. Lots of concern about McInerney who may face life in prison but no mention of King who will face life not at all.

King is just a thing, a stereotype, a bit player to advance the story. He has been written no lines, and he has no one to speak them for him if he had.

Paul

July 5th, 2011

Regardless of how relentless and inappropriate King’s advances may have been, violence, or any kind of mortal harm, is not warranted at all.
True… poor, tormented McInerney may not have been equipped to handle such interaction, and it could have indeed been a combination of an innate homophobia and a passionate lapse of judgment, but despite all that, he still pulled a gun on the damn kid.
That definitely deserves some kind of punishment.
You don’t take away someone’s life when they bother you, you go to someone for help, at the VERY least.

Perhaps off topic..but this is why so many more purposeful hate crimes occur; schools do not do a good job of educating their kids on how to handle sexual harassment, especially of the homosexual kind (though there should be no difference in handling).

TampaZeke

July 5th, 2011

Hear, hear Timothy.

Brilliantly presented!

The LA Times and Saillant should be ashamed.

XiaoYuan

July 5th, 2011

Keep up the good work Tim. About time someone spoke up on behalf of Lawrence King.

tiqueboy

July 5th, 2011

Look, if he had shot him once and then “snapped back” to reality that might be one thing, however, after he EXECUTED this poor boy, he stood up and shot him again in the head. I can think of NO EXCUSE for this. Gay Panic is bullshit!

Stephen

July 6th, 2011

Of course Dave is right. Look at the grammatical construction the writer of the news piece is using. It’s called a précis: she is summarizing, without comment, what the attorneys are telling her. She uses direct quotes to clarify the argument. And of course it’s about McInerey as he’s the person on trial. No doubt there will be stories about King later.

Moral indignation is seductive, I know, but should be resisted by anyone expecting to be taken seriously.

esurience

July 6th, 2011

The way the media reports things, they always make sure to put the word ‘alleged’ in front of a perpetrator of a crime, but if a victim is accused of doing something.. well that just gets written down as if it’s actually a plain fact.

The news article presented “King’s sexual advances” as an independent fact, not as just something the defense was claiming.

When you say a fact, someone has to be asserting it as true. It’s either the author of the news article that is saying it’s true, or it is a person being quoted or paraphrased. But if you’re going to paraphrase, you better use words like ‘claim’ or ‘alleged’, unless you’ve come to your own determination that what is being claimed or alleged is actually true.

Regan DuCasse

July 6th, 2011

Not just this writer for the LATimes, but also Newsweek was just as guilty of spreading this assumption as if it was evidence that King provoked McInerney.

All of this dismisses the facts of OTHER children bullied by anti gay sentiment which led to tragedy. Not only does this sort of reporting keep reinforcing the stereotype that gay people are sexually aggressive, but it also advances that whatever violence was justifiable.

I am so SICK and frustrated by this, that I could scream. I mean it.

McInerny had a history of violence, had made threats and was ALLOWED, because of the apathy of the school to continue his assaults on King up to this final one.

No one wants to be honest that when clergy, politicians, teachers, straight parents and nearly the entire information structure of a child’s formative years keeps pushing these stereotypes of gays…

To a hetero kid, interest will be violation, presence is threat and assault is warranted.
And then humps like McInerny take their instruction to a fatal degree and those responsible for training him to devalue and assault a gay kid, retreat behind stereotypes and literally try to make King out to be the aggressor and bully.

W. T. F?!?!

And now King is on trial…

I met one of his teacher/counselors from Las Casitas. That was the group home that King lived in. She and I worked for twelve hours one day together and we got to the subject of Lawrence King who she knew very well.
Her outrage at Newsweek’s coverage made her write to the authors and the LATimes as well.

She said that Lawrence was much smaller than McInerny and was the kind of kid that liked to make people laugh. He liked being entertaining, which he COULD be. She said he was SO cute, inimitably charming despite having virtually no real family. And that he was kind to the other kids. She said he sang beautifully and his musicality set him apart. That’s what hurt the most, was losing a talent like that. She could see him having real success with it.
Lawrence would try to meet his tormentors with his arsenal of good humor. He was NOT aggressive because he wasn’t big enough to fight most girls.
It brought her to tears knowing that Lawrence was being treated this way in the press and in public discourse.
I’m hoping King’s teachers, such as this young woman, will lend themselves to defense of his character. We can never take it for granted such a testimony shouldn’t be necessary in a murder trial. Especially a murder trial involving a child victim.

Damn, what do people think? This is the consequence of the extent a gay life is treated and taught to kids as having no value, or a menace.
And no gay person, as you all know better than I do, could possibly know to what degree someone can take offense at you.
Even the most innocuous interest like ‘hi, how are you and what’s your name?’ might make a real homophobe break your nose.
Hence, interest being violation to such people.
Because I see to what degree the anti gay take their perception of incursion and threat by gay people, I wish I could laugh at them for their lily livered hysterics.

Because of this, I NEVER believe the ‘gay panic defense’. Especially when you’re talking about people who way outnumbered, or physically outclassed their victim. Were already armed with a knife or gun, and typically sought out the victim on their own or were acquainted with them, and uses the element of surprise.
Which is essentially evident in this case too.
It’s no different from any other typical anti gay homicide profile.
Which is exactly why a fair jury shouldn’t believe that gay panic defense, ever.

Maurice Lacunza

July 6th, 2011

The comment about living in the shelter jumped out at me also. Well written article. Thank you.

Regan DuCasse

July 6th, 2011

Oh, by the way…I remembered something. I was told by Lawrence’s counselor that the make up wasn’t any more than a little ‘guy liner’ and clear gloss. And ONCE, to school, he wore a pair of suede boots with a 2 inch heels on them. They were from a thrift store.

Prince dresses like that all the time. So do all the guys of Green Day.
As does Adam Lambert…if Lawrence had aspirations of being a rock singer (and he had talent as a singer), how he dressed isn’t abnormal for a kid emulating such idols.

Let’s just say, that I’m thinking perceptions are skewed to hell on this one. And because it’s easier to bash LK, even after death, his detractors have little challenge to what they think.

Donny D.

July 8th, 2011

Timothy, thank you for doing pushback on those media stories pandering to straight bigotry with their aggressor gayboy narrative. I bought into some of that pseudo-journalism until I read your posts.

Now that you mention it, the media’s story IS hoaky. In a place like Oxnard, CA, how is any gay kid going to be able to come onto an unwilling straight guy repeatedly without getting the crap kicked out of him? And especially if the young gay male aggressor is “weird” (seriously non-gender role conforming) as the defense’s story funneled through uncritical journalists and interviewers has it? This could only happen in a fantasy world lacking any real high school social context, having no sense of the intense homophobia and gender role enforcement that are typical in American secondary schools. In reality, a kid as outrageous as King is alleged to be have been would have had very little freedom of action, and would have had enough trouble keeping himself safe if he simply minded his own business.

Callum

June 20th, 2013

Gay panic is absolute nonsense

It all comes down to LACK OF EDUCATION
on a global scale
for centuries.

Educate your kids that “the gay” is actually a direct mirror of yourself, except they like the same sex, and not a lifestyle or sub culture

End this relentless campaign of retaining “masculinity and dominance” at all costs, or what the idiots of the passed believed to represent masculinity, like this executioner child – violence, and the idea that gay people are in some way un unnatural

For gods sake, teach your children.

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