Everyday Victim Blaming

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The art of embellishing the histrionics of Pistorius

It’s grim enough hearing about Pistorius’s histrionics in court, but embellishing them is not reporting the facts. It is sheer bias. Exhibit number 1, I give you the Guardian’s Africa correspondent, David Smith, who has been reporting on the trial. Smith appears to be getting carried away with his prose in what reads more like a script for a courtroom drama where a wholly innocent man stands trial for a crime he did not commit.  The facts are that Pistorius admits to killing Reeva Steenkamp but denies murder. This is not The Shawshank Redemption. Nor is it To Kill A Mocking Bird.  Nor is it Presumed Innocent.

On Monday 7th April an article entitled ‘Oscar Pistorius’s emotional apology to Reeva Steenkamp’s unmoved mother’ sets the tone for the emotive ‘reportage’ that follows.  What better way to juxtapose the ‘unmoved’ grieving mother with the ‘emotional’ boyfriend?  The man who is responsible for Reeva Steenkamp’s death.  And just to reinforce the message the piece features a photo of June Steenkamp.

We learn that Pistorius addressed himself to June Steenkamp and not ‘the sea of faces in the public gallery or the red-robed judge who will decide his guilt.’ Poor Pistorius, that must have been so hard for him, all those eyes upon him. Is this what we’re supposed to think?

He continues with 'the Paralympian’s voice quivered, cracked, trailed off as he offered a very public apology. . . But if Pistorius, who went on to tell the court about his religious faith, was making a plea for absolution, it did not appear to move June Steenkamp, who remained impassive’

This is further described as an ‘intense extraordinary moment.’ Pistorius we are told made his plea in a ‘tremulous, almost boyish voice that was barely audible.’ The judge intervened ‘tenderly’ (note the sexism here too as I doubt this adjective would have been used were the judge male) and Pistorius describes his killing of Reeva Steenkamp as ‘this tragedy’.

‘Fighting back the tears, jaw trembling and tissue in hand . . . as Pistorius struggled to get out the words’ writes Smith. At this point, are we supposed to be grabbing for the Kleenex in our lachrymose states? I'm not unless tears of rage count.

Back to the scene, we learn how Pistorius’s sister, Aimee, ‘looked distraught, her mouth open a little, her eyes filled with tears.’ And just in case we missed it in the headline and the second paragraph, a further juxtaposition with June Steenkamp who ‘seemed unmoved by his appeal.’

Smith then informs us of his own view that ‘it was hard to reconcile Pistorius’s despondent figure in a black suit and tie and white shirt with the “blade runner” who thrilled stadiums around the world.’ I see.

Had enough?  Well I certainly had and gave up at this point and went back to the article a few hours later after bracing myself for more of the same.

In Smith’s own words, he writes ‘Pistorius described the devastating effects the shooting has had on his life.’  His life?! The shooting? It was his shooting, this is not even arguable; he admits that he killed Reeva Steenkamp.  Oh and, Pistorius was ‘gulping for air and struggling to speak.’

Enough. I couldn’t read any more and this served as a sharp reminder as to why I have avoided reading anything about this trial.  However, I decided to look into further reports from this correspondent.

Tuesday 8th April’s report featured an even worse headline: ‘Pistorius howls as he recalls moment he realised he shot girlfriend dead.’ The sub-headline states: ‘Paralympian’s cries bring murder trial to halt and mark dramatic end to second day of defence testimony.’ More in the same vein, Pistorius ‘broke down and howled wildly in court as he recalled the moment he realised that he had shot dead [note, not killed, interesting choice of language] his girlfriend.  Reeva Steenkamp is relegated yet again to her relationship with the man who killed her and remains nameless until the fourth paragraph.

Apparently, Pistorius caves 'finally surrendering to his emotions and letting out deep visceral moans and wails that stunned the packed courtroom and brought his murder trial to a halt.’  Forgive me, but previous emotional outbursts do not constitute surrendering to one’s emotions then?  What was Smith writing about on Monday 7th? And on Sunday 23rd March in the Observer whose headline read ‘’Nation readies for final high of high drama as Blade Runner takes the stand’.  The sub opens with ‘He has wept, vomited and clung to his family as his trial for the murder . . .’

It seems that Smith is increasingly getting caught up in this ‘high drama’ himself.  He writes that at the end of each day, Pistorius ‘walks back into prelapsarian fame’ and ‘steels himself for a moment.' He also sits ‘weeping or vomiting, as he is force-fed action replays of the moments that ended one life and broke his own.’ Force-fed?  Seriously?  This is known as ‘due process’ and Pistorius is in court for a reason. Let us remind ourselves that this is not drama. This is biased and emotive reporting casting a man who admits to killing a woman as someone who has found himself haplessly caught up in a situation that he had no hand in. This man is not an innocent bystander in some Greek tragedy, he is centre stage and is at the very least, guilty of culpable homicide.  He had his finger on the trigger of a weapon that he pulled, four times, and resulted in the violent and brutal death of a woman.  This is indisputable.  This is fact. He is not the victim here.

Smith goes on to describe how Pistorius’s testimony ‘will be the most theatrical moment yet at a trial . . .’  I repeat, this is not drama.  This is not theatre.  Leave that to the dramatists and playwrights.

Back to Pistorius’s emotions, which apparently he ‘surrendered to’ on Tuesday 8th April.  Smith perhaps forgot that he had written on 23rd March, ‘Given the pitiful figure he cut at last year’s bail hearing and at times during the trial – hearing, shaking, sobbing uncontrollably, the whole world his prison – his defence team may have concerns about his psychological readiness.’ The whole world his prison? And his stage, it would seem.

Then quoted in the very same article of 23rd March, is George Mazarakis, executive editor of the highly distasteful and macabre dedicated Oscar Pistorius trial channel who had cautioned ‘we have to be very careful about not sensationalising things and having serious legal analysis’. Hmmmm. Advice which seems to have been disregarded.

A glutton for punishment, I looked further for more of Smith’s work.  I got as far as the headline of an article dated Monday 24th March which recounted the day that Reeva Steenkamp’s heart breaking Whatsapp message to Pistorius was shared in court. ‘Oscar Pistorius “scared” Reeva Steenkamp, murder trial hears.’  Why the quotes? I would like to think that it is because Reeva was being quoted but I am not so sure.

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8 thoughts on “The art of embellishing the histrionics of Pistorius

  • JohnCB says:

    Great piece! I first began reading Smith’s reports on a 4G cell phone, and found it odd how far he seemed to depart from the BBC World News, BBC-4, New York Times, and other news sources in daily trial testimony. When I went to the web and saw the full accounts he’s been filing I was abashed. The pro-defense bias is unmistakable — and quite peculiar, given the facts (such as they are) he reports. I don’t recall the Guardian being so unreliable. Has it changed ownership or something? Rupert Murdoch own it now, by any chance?

  • Gill Ward says:

    Excellent piece and so strong of you to continue reading the dreadful sensationalist reports. I haven’t been brave enough to delve further. It’s all about his emotions (which, at least we know so far swing from one frightening extreme to another-bad rehearsal outcome from his team’s role playing and script). Wonder what a top psychiatrist/psychologist would make assessing Oscar? I agree with the above responder-Guardinsun, anybody, 20p this week at your local newsagents?

    This trial has been a circus, a media feast, an unfair focus on the famous perpetrator and sadly the most important person REEVA’S been lost. Reeva’s mother is grieving, is hearing dreadful descriptions of what happened that night, reading worrying text messages and seeing gruesome images on a daily basis. Grief, reaction, emotion is different for everyone. Trauma can make people shut down and withdraw as a coping method. Not difficult to work out but it’s not part of their plan is it`? Amateur psychologists interpreting stuff they know nothing about deliberately to destroy a case (feeding links to anyone interesting, I wonder, top PR firm at their disposal?). Utterly disgraceful, DIRTY, LAZY, WRONG reporting, dreadful that there’s a channel devoted to a real life tragedy (I shudder to think what goes out on that biassed waste of airtime) of where a woman REEVA STEENKAMP was brutally murdered. It is not a soap opera. A woman was brutally murdered.

    Thanks for the piece. I hope REEVA STEENKAMP’S family find something, somewhere, sometime, some space, something to heal and soothe.

  • Alison Boydell says:

    Thanks both for your comments and I totally agree. The so called reportage of this trial is so Pro-Pistorius, probably more so than hs defence team, who I dare say only care about their huge fees.
    There was a further piece by Smith this week which was more of the same; over-dramatic, using terms like “guns blazing” and “combative” to describe Prosector Nell. How inappropriate for a murder trial where the accused killed Reeva Steenkamp with a gun.

    The Guardian is not the only guilty party, I came across this Indy piece: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/oscar-pistorius-trial-court-is-adjourned-again-as-the-prosecution-goes-on-the-assault-9252319.html

  • […] The art of embellishing the histrionics of Pistorius […]

  • Ann-Kristine says:

    Thank you. A truly Human response to an inhuman , macho bit of gutter reportage. I salute you.
    Reeva is silenced yet again by another totally inadequate male.

  • margaret mccarroll says:

    Excellent post – Pastorius always tries to make himself the victim – everyone else is to blame including guns that fire on their own – does anyone feel sympathy that Pastorius has trouble sleeping, that he WAKES UP AT NIGHT – that he is on antidepressants – again, no one matters but him – ‘The weight of this is extremely overbearing’ , says Pastorius , the weight on poor him renders him EXHAUSTED ! RIP Reeva Steenkamp, Respect to her family

  • […] that I wouldn’t have to be writing about the appalling highly subjective reporting of the Pistorius murder trial again, however, after reading today’s Guardian online (the Observer) article, I felt compelled to […]

  • […] Boydell, “The art of embellishing the histrionics of Pistorius” and “Alas Smith and Tones: the ongoing inappropriate reporting of the Pistorius murder […]