Public Editor

April 15, 2014

Is A1 coverage ‘glorifying’ F. Glenn Miller Jr.?

One of the most common reader objections comes when news coverage runs photos of accused criminals. Is picturing them the same thing as glorifying them? Even if Tuesday's front-page photo of F. Glenn Miller Jr. doesn’t glorify him or the crimes of which he’s accused, it’s putting a very provocative visual in readers’ faces.

Readers very often contact me with criticisms like this one I received from an emailer about today’s Page A1:

It would be very nice if The Star quit glorifying that nasty killer like you guys did, today, on page 1 of the April 15th edition. Please take his pics off the front page (or remove them forever) and put his info inside the paper. He and his ilk are probably reveling in The Star's coverage. He doesn't deserve this kind of attention.

The central image on the page is a photo of Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr., also known as Frasier Glenn Scott, who is accused of capital murder and first-degree premeditated murder in shootings Sunday at two Jewish centers in Johnson County, Kan.

In the 1984 image, Miller is pictured with two guns, posing in front of a poster depicting a Confederate flag and a logo for the Carolina Knights of the Klu Klux Klan. It’s also accompanied by a smaller image of his booking shot from Sunday.

Two other stories in the package concern the three victims of the shootings, also with small photos. The dominant photo on the page is the “balcony” across the top, depicting two family members of William Lewis Corporon and Reat Underwood, the grandfather and grandson who died in the attacks.

The question here is whether the overall impression on the page presents Miller in a way he would approve of. It’s quite possible he is enjoying his notoriety while in custody.

But at the same time, there is no question that the public is keenly interested in who he is, and the media shouldn’t shy away from telling that very important part of the tale. The Star’s story looks at his background and raises questions about why a man with such a well-documented history of incendiary rhetoric and a prison record for weapons violations could have launched such a surprise attack.

Does the page present him in a positive, glorifying light? That’s a little difficult for me to see. And looking at it from a cold journalistic standpoint, I think you might argue that the presentation is a little imbalanced in that it almost presupposes Miller’s guilt based on past actions. (And yes, I know these sorts of arguments are one of the frustrations readers often express with journalists. Since Miller is the only suspect and his past is such an open book, perhaps those usual standards of “fairness” could seem a little ridiculous.)

So I think it’s an entirely understandable that people have such a negatively visceral reaction to seeing Miller’s image, especially in such a violently threatening context. Even if the image doesn’t glorify him or the crimes of which he’s accused, it’s putting a very provocative visual in readers’ faces. I understand why it’s so upsetting.

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