Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Torture Murders of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom

Media Firestorm

Channon Christian.
Channon Christian.
Although the horrors inflicted upon Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom were luridly savage, the national news media was slow to pick up the story. Conservative commentators and right-wing blogs insisted that the crimes were being ignored by mainstream media out of a perverse sense of political correctness — simply because the victims were white and the suspects were black. TV pundit and conservative columnist Michelle Malkin said "There is a discomfort level with stories that have black assailants and white victims... If it doesn't fit some sort of predetermined narrative of how we view taboo subjects like race and crime, there's a disinclination to cover it."

The controversy over the media's treatment of the killings spilled onto the streets of Knoxville on May 26, 2007, when 30 or so white supremacists gathered to protest the perceived lack of coverage. Hal Turner, an internet talk show host, summed up the protest's objectives with abrasive rhetoric: "The goal of this rally is twofold: We want to tell the liberal media we are tired of them spiking stories about black-on-white crime. Our second goal is to tell the black community they have to restrain their black hoodlums." A throng of social activists calling themselves the Coup Cluts Clowns showed up in clown make-up to stage a counter-protest. Although Knoxville police deemed the event "fairly orderly", they ended up arresting white supremacist organizer Alex Linder for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

For its part, prosecutors denied the crimes, while undeniably appalling in nature, should be considered hate crimes. "We have no evidence to support the notion that this was a race-based crime," said Knoxville police chief Sterling Owen, "we see this as a cold-blooded murder." Those believer were echoed by Knox County DA Randy Nichols: "It was a terrible crime, a horrendous crime, but race was not a motive. We know from our investigation that the people charged in this case were friends with white people, socialized with white people, dated white people... there is no evidence of any racial animus, there's evidence to the contrary."

The families of the victims seemed somewhat conflicted about the issue of hate crime. Channon's father Gary Christian told reporters: "There are people out there that just want to make something even worse than what it already is... I think any kind of crime like that's a hate crime. Was it racial? No I don't think so." Christopher's parents were less certain. Hugh Newsom opined to a local TV reporter, "Would they have done that to a black couple? I don't think so." Christopher's mother Mary added: "With all the things they did to them, what else could you call it but hate?"


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