Mentally ill or terrorist? Jo Cox and the politics of the media


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MENTALLY UNSTABLE:  Jo Cox’s killer has not yet been labelled a terrorist by mainstream media

MENTALLY UNSTABLE: Jo Cox’s killer has not yet been labelled a terrorist by mainstream media

When 41-year-old Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered in office on 16th June, she became the first MP to be assassinated since Ian Gow, who was killed by the IRA in 1990.

TRAGIC: Former Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox was shot and killed by Thomas Mair earlier this month in Birstall

TRAGIC: Former Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox was shot and killed by Thomas Mair earlier this month in Birstall

TERRORIST: The murder of Lee Rigby by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale in 2013 was described as a ‘terrorist’ attack

TERRORIST: The murder of Lee Rigby by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale in 2013 was described as a ‘terrorist’ attack

A refugee advocate and an avid Remain’ supporter, the mother of two was killed in the height of an EU referendum campaign that featured propaganda and fear-mongering from a number of different organisations and individuals.

The media offered readers hundreds of headlines surrounding her death, and many argued that if it was an Asian person who had killed her, there would have been mention of ‘terrorism’ in the titles.

Instead, her killer, 52-year-old Thomas Mair – a white man - was more often than not described as a ‘crazed loner’.

Many argue that it is no longer surprising that white criminals are presented as ‘mentally unstable’ or ‘misguided’ individuals, whilst black and Muslim ones are represent a broad culture of violence.

THE POWER OF WORDS: A Sociologist at Rice University in Houston, Dr Craig Considine, tweeted how the media uses phrases to ‘subtly condition us to think a certain way’

THE POWER OF WORDS: A Sociologist at Rice University in Houston, Dr Craig Considine, tweeted how the media uses phrases to ‘subtly condition us to think a certain way’

A non-profit independent publishing platform, which aims to advance the discourse around race, identity, politics and popular culture - Writers of Colour - pointed to the contrast between The Daily Mail‘s handling of Mair in comparison to its description of the black man accused of killing soldier Lee Rigby in a 2013 machete attack as a prime example of the trend.

Mair is called a ‘timid gardener dogged by years of mental turmoil’ whilst Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale – Mr Rigby’s killers – were ‘Islamic fanatics’.

During his first appearance in court this month, when confirming his name, Mair said: “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain,” a phrase that means different things to different people.

Though Mair has not yet been charged with terrorism offenses, he will appear in court under ‘terrorism protocols’.

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