The neutral headline gives no hint that the story shows a distracted driver crashed into this group of people.

FABB recommends a recent excellent article in Slate by David Zipper detailing how local television journalist Julie Carey uncovered the facts behind the late 2021 death of a pedestrian in Alexandria killed by a truck driver whose vehicle had jumped a sidewalk while turning left.

Rather than this tragedy, however, Zipper’s story is about the difficulty Carey faced in uncovering the facts of the incident and the impact of the initial “victim-blaming framing” of the initial police and media reports.

  • The initial reports by law enforcement and local media cast the incident as a vehicle striking a pedestrian with the driver—seemingly innocently–remaining at the scene.
  • It was only later that a close circuit television video obtained by the reporter revealed that the driver, unaware that he had a pedestrian pinned underneath the truck, had tried to “rock” the vehicle off the sidewalk.
  • This proved to be the proximate cause of death, and the police later arrested the driver.

Victim-blaming framing in police reports and media continues to be a problem. Zipper notes that, across the country, headlines about pedestrian and cyclist fatalities use the passive voice and highlight the vehicle instead of the driver (i.e., “pedestrian struck by car” rather than “driver strikes pedestrian”).

Improvements are occurring in our area. After the Fairfax County Police Department reported an early May incident in Alexandria as a “crash involving two bicyclists and an SUV,” our local NBC channel used the headline “Cyclist Critically Hurt After Driver Struck Him, Woman in Fairfax County.”

But, as riders (and walkers), we need to ask our local media—newspapers, television, websites—to do better. As Zipper points out, the media’s role in this conversation about safety matters. As he writes, “Media coverage can be instrumental in shaping such pressure [for safety changes], but only if newsrooms dig deeper in their crash reporting and guard against blaming the very people who are getting killed.”

Want to help make bicycling safer in Fairfax County? Contact us at [email protected].




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