A good story is told, but a great story tells itself. It differentiates itself from others by being anything but ordinary. It informs, engages and fascinates. It fills a space that a good writer knows well enough to leave alone.
Andres Hernandez is an immigrant from Guatemala with a story to tell about being attacked while walking through a community in Long Island, New York. As he tells it, he was jumped by two men then viciously beaten near a railroad track.
Allowing the story 'it wants to tell' to get in the way of the story 'that actually happened' is not journalism, it’s advocacy. It’s the reportorial version of trying to cram a square peg into a round hole.
The story was big enough to lead the most watched national newscast in America. It seemed Univision with the telling of this story had a point to make about hate and the crimes committed against immigrants who make their way to America only to be victimized for simply being different.
As I watched the anchorwoman feigning shock and horror, I couldn’t help but inch a little closer and listen a bit more intently. As the camera zoomed into the victim’s scalp, he carefully parted his hair to reveal lacerations left by his attackers. With a face still swollen from what must have been a bevy of blows, Andres struggled to share his tale — carefully and earnestly.
He didn’t say it. He didn’t need to. Univision’s team of anchors, producers and reporters were there to make the case for him.
RACIST HATE! — That’s what the banner reads under Andres’s bruises as he describes the attack by his two African-American assailants. The most watched Hispanic Network in America has a point to make about hate crimes, not just this one but also others that have taken place in and around these parts.
It’s a compelling story, if only it were true. You see, just as the feeling of pity and anger sets in –the type that would make any decent human being recoil after watching somebody attacked for simply being Latino, or Asian, or gay, or just different –-the story changes dramatically.
“I think they wanted to rob me,” says Andres who then goes on to detail what may have attracted the robber’s attention. “They saw me take out money to make a purchase at the store and they glanced at the credit cards I use to call my homeland,” he clarified.
It’s an important clarification – one that turns a hate crime into a crime of opportunity and hurts the cause of those who truly are the victims of hate – not to mention what it does to a news organization’s credibility. Oops. Allowing the story 'it wants to tell' to get in the way of the story 'that actually happened' is not journalism, it’s advocacy. It’s the reportorial version of trying to cram a square peg into a round hole.
Let me be clear, the rise in attacks against Hispanics in the US is as relevant as it is insidious. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there was an alarming rise from 0.6 per 1,000 persons attacked in 2011, to 2.0 per 1,000 attacked in 2012.
But not every attack is a hate crime and robberies should be in a class by themselves. A hate crime is, first and foremost, a random and wonton act of violence. And if we fail to distinguish, if we call all attacks hate crimes, we dilute the significance of the real thing---'the real story.'
Furthermore consider this for comparative sake, more than 90 percent of attacks against African-Americans are said to be committed by other African-Americans. Should we also call those hate crimes?
Univision’s lead story was a great topic, but not a great story. It’s an ordinary tale of a horrible event that unfortunately occurs with frightening regularity in this country.
Note to Univision: a good story is told, but a great story tells itself. It differentiates itself from others by being anything but ordinary. Every single minute of every hour of every day in America, somebody is robbed and often beaten in the process just like Andres.
He and millions of Hispanics in America are proud achievers, workers, doers and remarkable contributors. Painting them solely as pitiful victims is lazy, sensationalist, opportunist and most of all, just plain wrong.