The Media Driven Narrative of Domestic Violence..

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by Bells, Feb 20, 2020.

  1. Bells Staff Member

    Yesterday morning, Hannah Baxter was driving her three children down a quiet street in a suburb of Brisbane, presumably taking her eldest, 6 year old daughter, to school. Her other two children were also in the back of her car.

    An ordinary hot day, people were washing their car, walking, getting ready to go to work.. It was probably a drive she had done since the start of the year. Nothing extraordinary about it.

    Until yesterday morning when Hannah Baxter's estranged husband got into her car while she was driving her daughter to school, armed with a knife and a can of petrol, and while we can only imagine the horror that may have occurred in that car in those horrific minutes, we only know the horrific end result.

    Hannah's estranged husband doused them in petrol and then set them alight as she was driving down the road of that quiet suburban street. People who rushed to their aid were threatened by her former rugby player ex husband, who armed with a knife, then proceeded to stab himself as he watched his children burn in the back seat. Hannah managed to make it out of the car while on fire, as nearby residents tried to put out the flames and tried to rescue her children, as she screamed for help to save her children, while suffering horrific burns herself.

    Hannah died in hospital last night. After having witnessed a horror no person, no mother, should ever have to witness.

    Hannah's death and that of her children is not the first, nor the last that Australia will see when it comes to domestic violence and murdered families by a father/husband/ex partner.. We are horrified, but no longer shocked. This is a scourge in this country.

    And what always follows is a particular media narrative. Often, the perpetrator and murderer will be portrayed as desperate, loving father. In this particular instance, the narrative has been equally disturbing:

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    My personal favourite, if one can call it that, truly shows the problem we face when it comes to domestic violence:

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    Erasing domestic violence from the entire scenario. This is what we were subjected to for 24 hours..

    What is missing from this narrative is the fact that there was a history of domestic violence and Hannah had moved out of their marital home, with the children, because of domestic violence. She was staying with her parents as a result. They were apparently fighting for custody of the children..

    What is clearly missing from this narrative is that Hannah's murderous ex husband, did not simply die alongside his children in a "car fire" the way the media are portraying it. He doused them with petrol and then set them on fire as they were strapped in their car seats in the back. Then he actively tried to stop people from helping them and then he stabbed himself as Hannah and those babies burned.

    And as per usual, men's rights advocates have started to lay blame on Hannah and the court system for having taken his children from him.. Missing the bloody obvious that a man who loves his children would rather gnaw off his own legs with his teeth then set them on fire, regardless of custody or not and that this murderer did not love his children as much as he felt he owned them..

    Less than 12 hours after Hannah and her children were murdered, men's rights advocate and general repulsive human being, Bettina Arndt, came out with this tweet:

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    Not to be outdone, and in case anyone misinterpreted her intent, Ms Arndt just went out of her way to make sure we all stood corrected..

    How the media portray these crimes matters. Romanticising them, making him out to be the loving and doting dad who died alongside them, making him out to be a desperate father who truly loved his family, only reinforces the ideal that wives and children are possessions..

    Hannah Baxter and her children were not brutally murdered because they were loved. They were murdered because their murderer believed he owned them.
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  3. sculptor Valued Senior Member

    The media thrives on sensationalism!
    It always has, and, most likely, always will.
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  5. Bells Staff Member

    Is it sensationalism or just bad reporting?

    A headline saying how he died alongside his children in a car fire sets a completely different tone and implies something else entirely.

    He set them on fire, then stabbed himself after stopping bystanders from trying to rescue his children. That is the reality..

    Do you think a headline suggesting he died alongside them in a car fire tragedy sets a right tone given what he did? Or do you think it is sensationalism?

    What I want to know is why does the media portray these men as being loving husbands/partners/fathers?

    If he had jumped into a random person's car and set them on fire, no one would dare infer that love was a motivation, nor would the media plaster his image as a loving dad all over the place.
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  7. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

    I don't know how anyone could ''defend'' that father's actions. How sick that the headlines read what could be mistaken as an ''accidental'' car fire, that just ''happened.'' I'm not sure why after all of the legislation, civil rights actions, and awareness about violence against women - we still have stories like this that play down what living with an abusive man really looks like, and how it plays out after you (try to) leave him.

    In this particular case, I think what's also at play, is that many people idolize sports stars, by seeing how the media is referring to Rowan Baxter. They simply can't imagine that their favorite Rugby player was abusing his wife, plotting to murder her and their kids. People don't like when their idols turn out to be psychopaths.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2020
  8. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    The first story I read on this had a headline along the lines of "Woman dies in hospital after car fire kills her three children". The text of the story described the scene of the fire and included a picture of the burnt-out car. It mentioned that her husband and three children had died, and the impression I got was that the husband also died from the fire. There was no mention of any biographical details about the family.

    At this stage, I was wondering how such an intense fire could have occurred. This must have been some kind of freak accident. Seems strange that nobody managed to get out of the car alive. How could it happen so quickly? Fuel tank explosion? Those are really rare.

    However, then I read the part right near the end of the story, where it quoted a witness reporting hearing the woman screaming "he's poured petrol on me". There was a brief statement that police were investigating the circumstances, and that was the end of the story.

    At that point, I immediately thought: most probably, this will turn out to be an act of domestic violence carried out by her boyfriend/husband/ex-whatever.

    That particular story could be defended, I think, as an example of the reporter on the scene not having a clear idea about what happened. They did their job and reported the known facts on the scene - and nothing else. This is assuming the story was an up-to-the-minute report, for which the reporter hadn't had time to do any background research before filing.

    But for journalists who did have time to do a bit of research to find out who the people in the car were, and to interview witnesses, there is no excuse for them to dress up the story as if it was all a tragic accident. This was clearly no accident. Nor is there any excuse to publish a story on the "loving ex-rugby dad" who showed his kids with affection before he was "torched to death with them in a burning car". The reality is that he showered his children and his estranged wife with petrol and murdered them all.

    I don't know what Bettina Arndt said when her attention was directed specifically to this story. If she is going to make excuses for this man, she should have her recently-awarded Order of Australia revoked - something that many are already calling for, based on her making excuses for a convicted pedophile in the past.
  9. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

    But, if Hannah Baxter and her kids were killed say by a drunk driver in a head-on collision, the headlines wouldn't read ''mom and kids die in car accident,'' with no details of what actually caused the accident. The fact that you were a bit puzzled while reading the story James, shows that the journalism was reckless. (maybe deliberately misleading)
  10. Bells Staff Member

    A day after this horror unfolded, the media have started to read the room.

    Of sorts.

    Title on the front page of one news site in Australia:

    The accompanying image:

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    It should be noted that he was not arrested for having kidnapped his daughter and taken her interstate for 4 days and he had to be tracked down by police and the child returned to the mother..

    The quotation marks in the headline is because they were quoting her family.

    But note the contradiction..?

    You look at that photo, do you see a monster?

    The Courier Mail went further today, with this headline on their front page. The Courier Mail is one of the major newspapers for the state of Queensland, where these murders took place (this is behind a paywall unfortunately):

    The "killer" was added in just before. Last night, the story linked to a sad man who lived the life of a recluse after his wife left him..

    Those headlines were there last night, many hours after the horror of what unfolded was made public.

    Some of them are still there today or along a similar line.

    For example, Sky News (link embedded):

    That is currently on their front page, along with an image of the killer smiling with the children and woman he would go on to murder.

    News broke of this murder yesterday morning. The first thing she tweeted a few hours later, was to say that domestic violence leave was a racket.. Literally a few hours after news broke of a man who set his family on fire..

    When the narrative shifted slightly today, to say that he had in fact set his family on fire, Bettina posts about how women destroy the reputations of men in domestic violence cases...

    It's not that she is making excuses so much as shifting the narrative and victim blaming.

    She should never have been awarded that Order to begin with.
  11. Bells Staff Member

    Sorry forgot to respond to this..

    When the story broke here in QLD in particular, the words "fire was deliberately lit" were uttered.. Immediately we all suspected something.. When the story hit the written media online, links to Lifeline, etc appeared at the bottom, so they knew that this was a murder suicide.

    But they still ran with headlines and images that showed him as a loving family dad, there was one article that now appears to be buried, about how his social media posts were all about his children and quoting his friends on social media telling him to keep his chin up, etc, in response to posts and photos of his children and how he misses them..

    Even last night, 12 awful hours after this happened..

    I mean, note the time on the Fox Sports News story that I posted an image of in the OP. Nearly 22 hours after the murders..
  12. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    I guess the only point I was trying to make there is that when a news story like this first breaks, journalists don't always have all the relevant information. They have to be careful about jumping to conclusions prematurely. (I'm not saying they always are careful, by the way.) They also often have to take care not to prejudice future criminal proceedings, so criminal acts are often hedged with phrases like "allegedly".

    I do take issue with the kinds of "happy family" photos posted with later versions of this story, as well as descriptions of the perpetrator that try to "explain" his actions (he was lonely, he was in a legal dispute about access to the children, etc.). Nothing mitigates against the repulsiveness of this choice he made and I don't think he should be painted as a figure anybody ought to feel sympathetic towards. Nobody should be putting any of the blame on the victims, on the legal system or whatever. No doubt the next thing we'll be reading from some commentators is that the man must have been mentally ill, as if that is an excuse.

    Years ago, when Bettina Arndt was writing personal advice columns in newspapers, I thought that she seemed reasonably sensible. I wasn't aware until recently that she has apparently bought into "mens' rights" narratives.
  13. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    There's really no excuse for the news reports, then.

    We still have a very long way to go in addressing family violence effectively and fairly. There are still a lot of misogynistic narratives and false stereotypes influencing sections of the media.
  14. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    The media downplayed the most sensational aspects - hid them, maybe even missed them, rather than spotlighting and exaggerating them.

    (The media apparently did not even mention, for example, the possibility of brain damage from the athletic career contributing to impulsive violence - not only a sensational angle but a trendy one, and one that partly excuses the perp. It would have required describing the man as a perpetrator, as the one at fault).
  15. Bells Staff Member

    I absolutely agree with you there.

    I am talking more along the lines of hours after this occurred, when it became clear that this was not an accident, but a deliberate act.

    By last night, several articles were appearing in local media (as well as national for that matter) about how lonely the murderer was and how he was posting loving images of his children and messages about how much he loves them on his social media. The media was also showing those images and quoting those messages and also messages from his friends while insinuating that this was a possible cause. It was subtle, but there nonetheless. One particular message that was quoted numerous times was:

    “Chin up brother everything will work out just hang in there my bro a lot of people care about you and the situation your (sic) facing,” one friend wrote underneath a post on Mr Baxter’s Facebook page.

    Along with various photos showing a loving family man.

    This narrative is now helped by our own QLD Police force:

    “Is this an issue of a woman suffering significant domestic violence and her and her children perishing at the hands of the husband, or is it an instance of a husband being driven too far by issues he’s suffered by certain circumstances into committing acts of this form?”

    I shit you not!

    This comes after the police reported that the couple were known to them and they had handled various domestic violence complaints.. And that Hannah had been trying to seek help and protection from her abusive husband..

    Because apparently one can be driven to setting one's children on fire....? have just recently written a story, and linked a video of one of the little girls killed, telling her dad how she loves him.. He apparently linked it to his social media pages:

    Baxter captioned the video: “Found this on my wife’s phone, my little middle missing her daddy at work.

    “Priceless words before the older one jumps in to take over then listen to @hannbaxter in the background. Classic Baxter household antics.”

    Nice narrative though, isn't it? I mean, the fact that he was controlling and going through his wife's phone is beside the point to how this is playing out currently.

    She didn't just buy into it.

    She is their 'it' girl.


    Watching this horror story unfold in various ways at the moment.
  16. billvon Valued Senior Member

    While I agree, that's more because the media should not be doing "painting" to begin with - in either direction. Report what happened, report people's reactions, report steps taken and what's next.
  17. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

    How are women's rights perceived overall, in Australia?
  18. Bells Staff Member

    Good until a woman is murdered. Then the misogyny comes crawling out of the woodwork..
  19. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    If the physical reality aligns more with one of those "directions", reporting and "painting" are going to be the same thing. If physical text and photo spaces are limited or differ in effect, selection of content will "paint". And so forth.
    That is the common situation - the large majority of events, the routine journalistic reports, etc.

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