Smear by Association: Gay Critics Say News Coverage of Cunanan Killings Spread Antigay Bias

By Fitzgerald, Mark | Editor & Publisher, September 27, 1997 | Go to article overview

Smear by Association: Gay Critics Say News Coverage of Cunanan Killings Spread Antigay Bias


Fitzgerald, Mark, Editor & Publisher


WITH A FEW notable exceptions, news organizations did a poor job of covering Andrew Cunanan's killing spree, concluded a panel of journalists and media critics assembled by the National Association of Lesbian and Gay Journalists.

To veteran journalist Alan Acosta, who now directs the Stanford University News Service, Cunanan coverage suffered from the kind of things Journalism 101 courses warn against.

"So much of this was bad reporting. It was journalists interviewing journalists; Acosta said. "What disturbed me so much is how the media would take one shard of a rumor and repeat it over and over"

Acosta and Liz Tracey, communications director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination (GLAA), acknowledged that the Cunanan murder spree was sensational by its nature. But the further sensationalism of the coverage tended to feed antigay biases, they said.

"It was a completely voyeuristic view of the gay and lesbian community," he said. "The line between 'Hard Copy' and the evening news has disappeared:'

"I have to acknowledge that this is a very sexy story," GLAAD's Tracey said. "It had everything, and I think people let their guard down .... Gay killer. Gay killer. It became like a mantra. If it had been a heterosexual, you wouldn't have called him a 'straight killer.'"

Too much of the coverage had insulting implications, Tracey said. For instance, there were references to a "gay underworld," with the suggestion that this community would shield Cunanan from the police. And the false but repeatedly reported rumor that Cunanan was acting out of a twisted sense of revenge because he had the AIDS virus was an insult condemned by every speaker at the panel.

Yet, because that rumor was taken very seriously by police, journalists needed to report it, said Lydia Martin, whose coverage of the case for the Miami Herald was singled out for praise by GLAA . …

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