Coit Tower Attack Raises Disturbing Questions

Categories: Crime, Media
Coit tower.jpg
Not a first-rate ending to a second date
An unfortunate story emerged today about an South Bay man and woman, enjoying their second date, being brutally beaten and robbed at Coit Tower early Saturday. What's disturbing is not only that such an attack happened -- it's that you're just hearing about it now.

The male victim is still hospitalized and his broken jaw is wired shut, his sister tells the Examiner. She also lashed out at the state of media crime coverage that supposedly kept this story from becoming a water cooler discussion until today.

The victim's sister told the Ex she was upset this story was "buried in the police blotter" (the Ex's words, not hers) while the media ran with the Fort Funston dog-stabbing.

"That's been in the news repeatedly," the woman said. "I feel bad for the dog that got stabbed, but I'm sorry ... one of my brother's concerns is that if this is something that goes on, people need to be aware of it."

Media criticism of how violent, sensational crimes are covered is a rich subject perhaps even befitting a panel discussion. At the time the dog-stabbing began percolating into the news, SF Weekly declared it was already "San Francisco's top story"

"Man Stabs Dog" is a crime that has everything required to get San Franciscans abuzz -- and keep them that way: Violence, bizarre behavior, suspense -- the suspect has been ID'd, but may or may not be arrested --  and, of course, dogs. ... It's at this point that we're obliged to mention how Police Chief George Gascon chided us all about not being outraged enough about the murder of German tourist Mechthild Schröer, which should not have been a "one-day story."

It warrants mentioning that, far from being "buried in the police blotter," the Coit Tower attack actually didn't make the weekend crime report the SFPD prepares every Monday (though, to be fair, two murders did).

The media personnel who decide what crimes to report on did not make a conscious decision to play up a dog-stabbing at the expense of a human being being brutally mugged. In fact, the attention-grabbing details of the South Bay couple being out on just its second date and being victimized at a tourist destination located within a wealthy neighborhood make this story just the sort of thing reporters clamor to cover -- and readers spread around the Internet. This story wasn't ignored -- it was unknown. It took the Ex to dig this story up -- and kudos to them.

Rest assured, people will be "aware of it," even if it takes an extra day or two.

And yet, leafing through the police roundups -- that this crime appears to have been initially omitted from -- one finds no shortage of danger and human misery. Any number of men and women who are not visitors to the city enjoying the pleasures of North Beach are victimized every day; they're robbed, beaten, scammed, and intimidated, often in neighborhoods where tourists, and even many San Franciscans, don't visit. The San Francisco Police Department estimates that in excess of 200 reports are filed every day.

What is the proper way to report on "everyday crime" or crime occurring in violence-infested neighborhoods readers don't visit? That's a problem journalists have been grappling with since the days of pamphleteering. That it will continue is one of the only certainties in the future of journalism.

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