WATCH: Press Presents Bias in Alabama Hate Crime Report

There was some distressing news out of Alabama last week. Local CBS affiliate WRBL reports that local resident Laura Gilbert was attacked and beaten to a pulp by about 12 people at a bar called “The Villa” in Opelika, Alabama on January 29th. The attack was preceded by derogatory remarks about her being a lesbian and not appearing feminine enough.

After her friend called the sheriff, they arrested Gilbert –and only her– while joking around with her attackers and refusing to take a statement from her or her friend, a refusal that still stands over a week later.

Then the police refused to release to her a copy of the incident report, itself a violation of the law.

This story is shocking and all too familiar, but I found WRBL’s story from reporter Alison Flowers to be frustrating on another level. Here’s her report, originally aired February 3, 2011:

Frankly, this report is exactly why we still need watchdog groups like GLAAD. There’s so much wrong with this piece that I almost don’t know where to start. Let’s address the issues in a handy numbered list, shall we?

  1. Why is this billed as a story about Laura Gilbert making allegations? Isn’t it better described as a story about police inaction or complicity in the face of mob violence? In short, why make this a story about the victim doing something rather than about the police not doing something?
  2. “Her case at first glance doesn’t look so great.” Really? She was attacked and beaten by a mob, then the cops joked around with her attackers instead of arresting them. That sounds like a pretty damn good case to me. But for some reason, the reporter and/or story editor at WRBL chose to blame the victim of this hate crime.
  3. Speaking of blaming the victim, it’s interesting to note that the reason Alison Flowers gives for it being a bad case (“She was drunk, it was late, and she admits to fighting back.”) are three of the more common excuses people use to incorrectly and offensively blame rape survivors for their own rapes.
  4. Of course she fought back. We’ve been shown over and over and over and over and over and over that we rarely have any defense but ourselves. Any LGBT person who values her life would and should fight back.
  5. "I have rights just like y'all do."
    "I have rights just like y'all do."
  6. On the other hand, good on Flowers for not buying Sheriff Jay Jones’ idiotic excuse that Gilbert didn’t report a hate crime. As Flowers pointed out, Alabama’s hate crime law doesn’t include LGBTs, so locally speaking, there was nothing to report.
    (Also, the deputy refused to take a report from her, so I’m not exactly sure when she was supposed to ask him to tick box 26 on his form.)
  7. Unfortunately, at the end of the report Flowers seemed to brag that Alabama doesn’t have as many hate crimes as states that have hate crime laws. Note to Flowers: Of course you don’t have as many hate crimes reported. There is no reporting mechanism in place and the victims know they’ll be treated worse if they complain.
  8. It sounds like Sheriff Jones thought the fact that Gilbert and her friend were the only ones reporting injuries works in his officers’ favor. I would have liked to see him asked why that doesn’t help her case. Unless, of course, he thinks she was punching herself.
  9. Kudos again to Flowers for pointing out Sheriff Jones’ patently nonsensical garbage that Gilbert and her friend were too drunk to give statements, even though deputies took statements from their attackers, who came from the same bar. What a stupid thing to say.

It’s so frustrating. Members of the press are expected to provide reasonably fair reporting, and that’s not what we got from WRBL or Alison Flowers in this report. Instead, we got poor excuses and blame shifting.