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Tabloid Trash

Twisted by the 'Times'

By Bob Harris

BACK ON JULY 25TH, while that whole Andrew Cunanan deal was happening, the L.A. Times wrote an editorial condemning the major media coverage of the case. The editorial was called "Distortions of the Tabloid Style: Cunanan Coverage Shows How Perspective Can Be Lost."

Here are a few excerpts:

"Violent crime may be declining . . . but it has become all but impossible to avoid on TV. . . . TV may be overexposing us. . . . Commentators filled the airtime with wild speculation about how a gay party animal turned into a suspected serial murderer. . . . Why the massive coverage? Violence is news. Many TV news directors structure their programs based on the ghoulish formula, 'If it bleeds, it leads.'"

It's a great editorial and righteous as all heck, but there's this one nagging little detail: The very day this L.A. Times editorial was published, the front page of the exact same issue was headlined by . . . Andrew Cunanan! "Suicide Is Dramatic Finale to Case," shouted the Times' lead story, accompanied by a photo of the FBI's Cunanan website. Cunanan's picture was slashed with a red line and captioned "Found Dead."

Incidentally, the red slash through the dead man's face looked remarkably like the lipstick-through-victim-photo thing serial killers did on old episodes of Dragnet and Charlie's Angels. Kinda creepy, coming from the FBI.

Well, at least somebody at the Times wanted to stay above the gutter. Maybe the folks over there writing editorials criticizing the TV coverage might take a minute and actually read their own paper.

Now that the whole Andrew Cunanan deal is over, something still bugs me about the way everyone discussed the case. It's the phrase "gay serial killer."

Yes, Cunanan was gay, and yes, he was a serial killer. But why slam the two together as if they were related?

Granted, all the networks and major papers reported the rumor that Cunanan was HIV-positive and on some sort of Charles Bronson Death Wish-with-a-Swish thing, but that was only an unfounded rumor. Reliable? Two words: Richard Jewell. Cunanan didn't have HIV after all.

So, um, he's a "gay serial killer" because his victims were gay? Nope. What about the rich real estate guy in Chicago and the caretaker whose car he stole? Not gay. Versace was gay, but there was no known relationship. So Cunanan killed more people randomly than he did because of any sex preference thing.

OK, then, he's a "gay serial killer" because he was gay? Rubbish. The guy they convicted of the Atlanta child murders was black, and so were his victims, but no one calls him the "black" child murderer. And Ted Bundy was a heterosexual Republican who killed several other heterosexual Republicans. No one calls him the heterosexual Republican serial killer.

We don't know for sure why Cunanan killed anybody and probably never will. Which means that everyone's using a phrase with no grounding in reality that slanders an entire group of our fellow Americans, a group that already receives more than its share of hate crimes.

Cunanan's dead. Maybe we can bury our foolishness with him.

A LOT OF PEOPLE seem to think that America's greatest failing in the Gulf War was that we didn't just go ahead and kill Saddam Hussein. As if all of foreign policy really boils down to George Bush and Saddam wrestling around in Air Force One, and George is supposed to tell Saddam to "Get off my plane!" and if he doesn't, we want our eight dollars back.

Meanwhile, we were told over and over again to Support Our Troops. Now, thanks to a new study, maybe we're finally getting our chance.

As you know, thousands and thousands of soldiers who served in the Gulf War came back complaining of fatigue, sore muscles, sleep and memory disorders, and so on. The Pentagon says it's all in the soldiers' heads. The Pentagon is apparently more right than it imagines..

Researchers at the University of Texas recently tested 46 members of a U.S. Navy Reserve unit that served in the Gulf War, and found that more than half showed signs of brain damage, probably caused by large amounts of various toxins.

The source of the poisoning isn't clear. It could be chemical weapons, or the anti-chemical-warfare pills they were given, or a combination of those and other stuff like bug spray and various vaccinations all slapped together in one big neural cocktail. We don't know. What we do know is this: Study after study shows that the symptoms are real. It seems to me that Supporting Our Troops might include believing them.

Even if you disagreed with the war (as I did), the soldiers are still our brothers and sisters. Bad enough they had to suffer in the war against Iraq. They shouldn't have to fight the American government, too.

Who won the war, really, if Saddam Hussein finally outlives the young men and women who went overseas to fight him?

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From the August 7-13, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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