An Iowa newspaper is accused of pro-white bias after it handled the same alleged crime between two different sets of suspects in radically different ways.
Blogger Rafi D’Angelo at SoLetsTalkAboutIt.com pointed out that in reports filed on successive days, the The Gazette in Cedar Rapids printed mug shot photos of black burglary suspects and yearbook photos for white burglary suspects.
On March 23, the Gazette‘s Lee Hermiston reported that three University of Iowa wrestlers were arrested after being caught in possession of several items that had been stolen from local homes in Marion, Iowa. The three suspects — Ross Lembeck, Seth Gross and Logan Ryan, all 19 and all white — were shown in the Gazette‘s pages in the their freshman yearbook pictures, wearing matching coats and ties.
According to the Gazette, “The three wrestlers were charged with possessing alcohol under the legal age. Lembeck was charged with drunken driving. Gross was charged with interference with official acts because he fought with officers, police said. Ryan was cited and released.”
They are accused of at least seven burglaries in the area.
On the same day, Hermiston reported on four African-American suspects charged with a burglary in Coralville, Iowa, but this group of suspects — Kwain E. Crawford, 36; Milton Whitehead, 50; Quentin D.W. Eatman, 24; and Curtis J. Johnson, 29 — were all pictured in their police mug shots.
The four men were charged with breaking into a residence on March 20 around 4:00 a.m. and assaulting the occupants. They were reportedly looking for a gun, but left instead with a TV, around $240 in cash and a cell phone.
Currently, the Gazette‘s website shows mug shots of the wrestlers, but D’Angelo obtained screen shots of the original article.
Someone on the Gazette‘s original Facebook thread about the article pointed out the disparity, only to have another commenter say, “Good point other than it’s safe to say those blacks didn’t have school pics…”
Another commenter said, “Why are they referred to as ‘wrestlers?’ Are they wrestling in the story? I though they were burglars.”
BoingBoing’s Caroline Siede wrote, “As Rafi points out, regardless of what photos were available of the black suspects, the white suspects definitely had mugshots taken. In trying to justify the discrepancy, The Gazette explained they must make a formal request in order to get mugshots, yet they were clearly willing to take that extra step when it came to the black suspects.”
KCRG news director Adam Carros denied pro-white bias was to blame for the stark contrast between the photos.
“KCRG-TV9 and Gazette policy is to use the best photographs of suspects available when reporting crimes, while always requesting and using mug shots when one is available. Pictures are the best way to identify suspects in a crime, eliminate confusion with another person with the same name and, in some cases, potentially identify other victims who recognize a suspect,” he wrote.
Carros said the mug shots of the white wrestlers were not available when the story was initial published because of where they were arrested. The Johnson County Sheriff Office posts mugshots online, but the Linn County Sheriff’s Office requires news outlets to submit a formal request, which causes a delay.
“The wrestlers’ positions on the University of Iowa roster gave us immediate access to a recent team photograph of the men. We used these pictures in lieu of available mug shots, which we have typically done in reporting other arrests of college athletes. Once mug shots were made available to us, we added those mug shots to the article,” Carros wrote.
[Note: This article has been updated.]