News coverage of the three murders at two Johnson County Jewish centers on April 13 has been difficult to stomach for many readers.
“I realize (The Kansas City Star) has to report what happened,” said one reader who contacted me. “But I can’t tell you how sickened I am to have to see the details, and especially to look at photos of this disgusting, twisted man. I just want it all to go away.”
She was of course referring to white supremacist and anti-Semite F. Glenn Miller, who is accused of the crimes. He was already something of a public figure, having been the subject of stories in 2010 when he bought time on Missouri radio stations to run inflammatory racist commercials for his absurd bid to unseat Sen. Kit Bond. I recall objections to that coverage at the time, too.
Yet regardless of how difficult it is to read about, the rampage is unquestionably news — and it made headlines around the globe. Whether you term them hate crimes or domestic terrorism, the acts Miller is accused of touch on a variety of hot-button issues.
Confronting bigotry and hatred will always bring up uncomfortable ideas and words. It’s one thing to hear critics denounce public figures for prejudiced statements.
But to read that Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy suggested black people were “better off as slaves,” or that former U.S. Rep Ron Paul published newsletters making statements such as, “I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in (Washington, D.C.) are semi-criminal or entirely criminal” years ago?
Reading the specifics is much more informative than others’ descriptions. The details let readers make up their own minds.
Of course, it isn’t only bigoted words that bother readers. Images can sometimes carry more emotional weight than text.
I heard from many readers who were especially troubled by a 1984 file photo of Miller that ran in the center of the front page April 15. In it, he posed in camouflage gear with two guns in front of a Ku Klux Klan sign that incorporated the Confederate flag. Several people told me they thought the image “glorified” Miller, and I do understand that opinion.
I’m sure if Miller saw it, he would have thought it portrayed him at a moment in his life when he felt powerful, holding a leadership position among fellow white supremacists.
At the time, Miller looked young and virile. It was a stark contrast to the cover image of the next day’s Star, which showed him in a wheelchair, wearing only an anti-suicide jail smock and appearing quite frail.
Some readers were bothered by that photo as well. “I can feel his evil eye,” one caller told me.
I heard negativity about a story last week that reported Miller had been caught in the mid-1980s inside a car with a black male prostitute who was dressed as a female. “When did The KC Star turn into a tabloid magazine?” asked one.
Here, I have to disagree with the critics, though. I think it’s absolutely germane, considering Miller’s many well-documented slurs against black and non-heterosexual people. Again, the details help readers form their own opinions about his character.
One constant I’ve heard throughout the aftermath: Don’t forget Miller’s victims and their loved ones.
“Don’t intrude while they’re grieving, but the community wants to mourn with them,” as one caller put it.