The media coverage of the death of first-year Rutgers student Tyler Clementi includes parceling out the blame for this tragedy among fellow students, the ubiquity and spontaneity of the internet, and the pervasiveness of bullying and harassment among teen agers. Yet one important factor is underreported.
Tyler Clementi was the victim of what Garden State Equality’s CEO Steven Goldstein correctly categorizes as a Hate Crime. Allegedly, Mr. Clementi’s roommate and another accomplice surreptitiously broadcast video of Mr. Clementi having a homosexual encounter in his dorm room. Once this was revealed, it may have led Mr. Clementi to commit suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. Sadly, this was not an isolated incident.
In their reporting of the Clementi affair, the media unsurprisingly include the lurid details of the web video and the suicide jump. Some, such as the article by Amy Ellis Nutt, provide some background on other crimes where the internet and social media have been used as an enabler. Some articles discuss the growing scourge of cyberbullying – taking the unjustifiable but traditional teen age rite of passage to a new and more dangerous level.
So yes, the internet provides the bully with a platform that amplifies and spreads his message at the speed of light. No graffiti artist ever had such a powerful tool. Bullying, harassment, and hate crimes have been with us for a long time, and now that these internet tools exist, more needs to (and is) being done to raise awareness among parents and teen agers.
Yet, there’s another powerful insidious enabler that does nothing to mitigate these hate crimes – the so-called “mainstream media.” It’s no surprise that Fox “News” would equate being gay with terrorism, but even the so-called “liberal” MSNBC uses language that fuels the fire.
When institutions like the Asbury Park Press, the Star-Ledger, and Comcast Newsmakers provide space for columnists who cheer the death of physicians who provide women’s health services, they are providing platforms for more of these hate-mongers. This is not a freedom of speech issue. Imagine the outcry if the Star Ledger published an op-ed by Jeremiah Wright or Lewis Farrakhan. While the Fourth Estate has the responsibility to report facts, it also is part of society’s moral compass and must realize that, like with the struggle for race equality, the struggle for LBGT rights is more than legislation and court decisions. Segregationists don’t get air time and op-ed space in legitimate media. Neither should anti-gay hate mongers.
So, Tyler, wherever you are today, we shed a tear for you and for an America that is not yet the “shining beacon” of equality to which we should all aspire. And as a Rutgers alumnus, I feel especially sad that such a talented young man did not have the opportunity to thrive on the banks of the old Raritan. Some day this madness will end, and you will be remembered as one of the foot soldiers who helped make that happen. Rest in Peace.