The Census Worker Narrative

So, it turns out that a supposed murder of a census worker in Kentucky was not a murder at all — it was a suicide. When news first broke of Bill Sparkman’s death, many claimed he must have been killed by an anti-government radical. Officials have now reported that the man faked the whole thing, making it look like the work of an extremist murderer rather than suicide.

He  “was found naked, bound with duct tape and hanging from a tree with ‘fed’ scrawled on his chest.” However, authorities recently made it known that they believe it was actually a suicide made to look like a homicide. They also noted the following:

Sparkman also had recently taken out two accidental life insurance policies totaling $600,000 that would not pay out for suicide, authorities said. One policy was taken out in late 2008; the other in May.

But when news of his death first broke, many in the media jumped on the characterization of the incident as just another example of how right-wing, anti-government sentiments can lead to violent acts. It played into their preconceived narrative.

Here’s one example from MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” of how some in the media tried to play up that narrative:

Maddow later attempted to  down-play her coverage after acknowledging that the facts were not clear as of yet.

One state senator lamented the media’s stereotyping:

State Sen. Robert Stivers of Manchester also expressed sympathy for Sparkman’s family but charged the media with rushing to “sensationalize” before all the facts were known.

“They have painted us with a brush that should have never been used,” he said.

Maybe this will serve as a lesson to those in the media suspicious of those in “fly-over country” who don’t like the current size or policies of the federal government, but it’s unlikely. Stereotyping and demonizing those who disagree with them helps some in the media marginalize their opposition.

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