How violent attacks and hate crimes against the AAPI community are being covered by media outlets

Johnny Arellano

By Johnny Arellano, CONTRIBUTOR

On March 16, law enforcement arrested a man suspected of opening fire at three massage spas in Atlanta. The man identified as Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock, Ga, opened fire leaving eight people dead in a series of attacks at different locations in Atlanta. Six of the victims were of Asian American descent and two of the victims were white.
Long was ultimately brought into custody and charged by authorities with “eight counts of murder in three different shootings related to massage parlors.” This tragic event is amongst one of the many hate crimes that have hit the Asian American and Pacific Islanders community. Anti-Asian hate crimes have dramatically increased across the U.S. over the past year, according to a report by the forum Stop AAPI Hate, nearly 3,800 incidents were reported between March 19, 2020 – February 28, 2021.
Moreover, a recent analysis released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found that hate crimes targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders rose nearly 150%.
This tragic event that occurred in Atlanta cannot be divorced from the rise of anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander hate crimes taking place across the U.S. Therefore, it is paramount to take a close look at how two different news media outlets reported on the event.
Comparing two media outlets – The New York Times and Fox News – it is evident that both news publications took a different approach when covering the mass shooting.
Analyzing the New York Times article headline, which was published on the day of the shooting, March 16, titled “8 Dead in Atlanta Spa Shootings, With Fears of Anti-Asian Bias.” This headline not only states the fact of the crime but, more importantly, the headline primes the reader to connect this event with the string of anti-Asian incidents that have been on the rise for the past few months.
In the following days after the shooting, the NYT published an article titled “Protesters Gather in Atlanta to #StopAsianHate.” The headline here spotlights how this act of violence has taken a hit on the Asian American community, so much so that thousands of people gathered in solidarity with the AAPI community.
Given that the gathering depicted in the article was ultimately very peaceful and how many people have a negative connotation with the word “protester,” as it alludes to a mob-like group going berserk, the phrase “peaceful protestors” included in the article would modify the word’s connotation.
On the other hand, Fox News broke the event with the headline “Georgia Massage Parlors Turn Into War Zones As Police Unravel Deadly Shooting Scenes,” this headline does not mention the possibility that the event could be tied to the rise of anti-Asian incidents. Additionally, including words such as “War Zones” primes the reader to put aside the possibility of this crime being an act against the Asian American community.
The headline article here is framed in such a way that diminishes the public outcry and solidarity people have with the Asian-American community.
The following days after the incident, Fox News published an article titled, “Liberal Media Need To Wait For Facts Before Blaming Atlanta Shootings On Trump And Racism, Critics Say.” From reading this headline alone, we can safely assume that this piece primarily focuses on the outcry to support the Asian American community by leaders who identify as left learning.
After taking a closer look at this article, the author, Brian Flood, only cites three liberal figures, “The View” co-host Joy Behar, MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” panelist Mike Barnicle, and CNN writer Stephen Collinson. The author of this article carefully frames this piece, leaving out many civil justice organizations/groups that have been at the forefront of raising awareness of this issue.
Both of The New York Times’ articles clearly mention how this act of violence can be connected with the recent rise of anti-Asian and Pacific Islanders violence. Moreover, The New York Times’ articles include a lengthy piece for the readers on just how severe the voices against Asian Americans have become.
For example, the NYT cites the report published by Stop AAPI Hate. According to the report from March 19, 2020, to February 28, 2021, nearly 3,800 hate incidents were reported against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. The report also stated the number could be higher as not all incidents get reported to law enforcement authorities.
The Fox News article does not include any reports that illustrate the rise of anti-Asian hate in the country. In fact, Fox News made it particularly clear to their readers they should not assume anti-Asian hate played a role in this crime, writing, “Mainstream media has relentlessly focused on the race of the majority of the victims and tied it to Trump,” as well as, “Democratic politicians have not a single fact to justify a hate crime argument, they were not in that detective room, there was not a single shred of evidence coming from this assailant, this nut, who talked about hating someone based on race.”
Both of Fox News’ articles also had their fair share of citing questionable sources. Flood wrote, “Some members of the mainstream media have been quick to blame former President Donald Trump, Republicans and anti-Asian racism for the string of Tuesday night shootings at Atlanta-area massage parlors despite a lack of evidence to support the claim.” The word “quick to blame” was hyperlinked to a story written by a different Fox News contributor, in which he wrote a piece regarding the opinion of Joyce Bowie, a host of the morning TV show, The View.
In comparison, The New York Times’ articles had a wide variety of sources. For instance, when mentioning the 911 call that came into law enforcement regarding the crime, NYT directly linked the 911 call from the Atlanta Police Department website.
Furthermore, when their article mentioned statistics regarding the rise of anti-Asian American hate, the authors cited data by the New York City Police Department. Additionally, the NYT cited a recent report conducted by the research forum STOP AAPI. It is important to point out that the NYT, like Fox News, also cited stories written by their outlets. However, rather than using stories that fall under their opinion category, The NYT used stories that fell under their news category.
The way these two media outlets, the New York Times and Fox News, cover this senseless act of violence is paramount in the context of social justice and media literacy because media sources make a powerful impact on how we, as readers, view and interpret issues surrounding our society. From the approach, that each of these media sources took in regard to their headlines, the way they primed and framed their coverage, and their delivery of information to the public, it is up to the reader how they interpret the information they are consuming.