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Despite admitting that they have much to learn in hindsight, several local and national journalists said they stand by their extensive coverage of the recent Carol Stuart murder case.
The event, sponsored jointly by the Law School Forum and the Boston Association of Black Journalists, brought more than 300 people to the Ames Courtroom in Austin Hall. The participants including the executive producer of ABC's World News Tonight and the editor of the Boston Herald, said that the strange nature of the Stuart case made it worth more attention.
"All murders are not created equally," said Herald editor Ken Chandler, explaining that the sensational nature of the case merited continual two-month coverage.
Chandler said that the case--placed in the context of increasing gang shootings and calls for more police action--also warranted attention because the murder seemed to epitomize the burgeoning problem of violence in Boston.
The media directors said that their initial decisions to run the Stuart shooting as the top story was not racially motivated. Rather, they said, the story deserved top billing because of the drama inherent in a pregnant woman and her husband getting shot, they said.
"We as a TV station reacted to this story just as we would to any other story," said Stan Hopkins, news director of local WBZ-TV.
Emily Rooney, news director of WNEV-TV, said, "It was the lead story, and nobody knew what color [Carol Stuart] was."
Several panelists said that they would try to be more openly skeptical of accepted accounts of crimes in the future. During the first few weeks of coverage, most news organizations did not publicly question the innocence of Charles Stuart, who eventually committed suicide amid rumors that he killed his wife.
Several said, however, that they had begun to suspect the handsome, Revere-born businessman once they heard the tape of him calling police from his car phone shortly after he and his wife were shot.
"We were ridiculed and even stepped upon for even suggesting that," Rooney said.
Panelist Edward Morgan, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, gave that claim little credence, saying to the other journalists "that doesn't really stop us in other occasions."
Since Charles Stuart's suicide, the media has come under fire for originally assuming that a Black man, not Charles Stuart, was the one who murdered Carol Stuart. But several participants said they had used all their resources to try to crack the case.
"Everybody was trying to work every source they had," said Phil Sirkin, news director of WEEI radio. "With the powers we had, we could not have come up with it."
But Morgan and Brian Wright O'Connor, managing editor of the Bay State Banner, a Boston weekly, said that the media's focus on the Stuart case is representative of a larger trend of exploiting stereotypes of Blacks instead of covering other serious issues in the Black community.
"Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one," O'Connor said. He said that balanced racial coverage will not be achieved until more minorities become media owners and editors.
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