Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cute ’n’ Cuddly Killer Gives Her Teddy a Hug

The Houston Chronicle’s “The butterfly and the knife” series on the killing of 15-year-old gangster acolyte Gabriel Granillo was a rare stab at long-form storytelling by the ordinarily monotonous daily newspaper, and we’ll stipulate into the record that we read all four parts (which was about two parts too many for the material)---in spite of the dopey title, in spite of the two strangely divergent authorial voices (one usually works better, we hear) and in spite of the obvious exertions to cast a rosy cinematic glow over the unrelievedly tawdry proceedings. (“And the grass---the grass was brilliant green, lush, before the summer heat turned it brown and dead.” Please, stop that.)

For the most part it was an interesting and at times illuminating read, even the made-up and imagined parts, but we had a real hard time getting past the newspaper’s choice of photos of the accused now-17-year-old killer, who was pictured with a solitary tear rolling down her cheek (she’s remorseful), engrossed in her school studies (she’s got an eye toward the future) and on the front page cuddling with a teddy bear next to her neatly obscured mother (she’s just a little girl, even though the mean ol' state has certified her to be tried as an adult). We’d imagine that the girl’s lawyer, who surely consented to and monitored the newspaper’s interviews with his client, couldn’t have been more pleased with the pre-trial imagery, although the stories themselves hardly made her out to be such a sympathetic character.

We would never mount our high horse to accuse such a morally resplendent institution as the Houston Chronicle of racism---no, not the daily newspaper that refuses to identify at-large crime suspects by race because, in the words of its reader representative, presenting such potentially relevant information amounts to “racial scorekeeping”---yet we can’t help but wonder whether the accused killer would have been accorded the soft-focus treatment if she weren’t a chubby-cheeked white girl. Yeah, imagine the paper running the same type of pictures if the accused were a burr-headed, tattooed cholo type ... like the victim.

You can’t.

Almost as bothersome was the pronouncement in the last installment by University of Houston sociologist Nestor Rodriguez (apparently Rice University’s Bob Stein was tied up that day, probably on another line with another Chronicle reporter), who seemed to suggest it all has something to do with welfare reform and stricter immigration law.

Please, stop that.

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