Dragging a victim through the mud

May 21, 2008

ON APRIL 5, Boston's news media broadcast the tragic news that two girls were killed in a fire. The sisters, Acia and Sophia Johnson, ages 14 and 2, burned to death in their South Boston apartment.

While most people would probably respond to a family experiencing such a tragedy with compassion, the local media dragged the girls' mother, Anna Reisopolous, through the mud in her darkest hour.

Right-wing radio host Michele McPhee led the charge by calling--on her show and in an op/ed in the Boston Metro, the most widely read paper in Boston--for Reisopolous' arrest when it was discovered she was out of the house at the time of the fire.

But the contempt for Reisopolous wasn't limited to the right-wing press. Across the board, from the conservative Boston Herald to the liberal NPR affiliate, WBUR, local media outlets led their coverage all week with the private details of Reiopolous' home, including her drug addiction and the number of visits by the Department of Social Services to the house over the years.

Needless to say, a family who experienced a tragic fire, but resides in Newton or one of Boston's other wealthy suburbs, wouldn't be treated this way.

There is though, a more cynical effect of the media coverage and the decision of city officials to publicize the private matters of this family.

The Greater Boston area is in the midst of massive budget cuts in social spending. Boston Public Schools is freezing the hiring of teachers, laying off support staff and closing schools. Cambridge Health Alliance, the last public hospital system in Massachusetts, is experiencing major cuts and laying off staff.

According to a report by WBUR, 20,000 Massachusetts households are about to lose their gas because they are so behind on the bills. With cuts to the Heating Assistance Program, there's no chance at relief for most of these families.

These cuts are making life untenable for working-class families. As more people are put in desperate situations, we can expect more tragedies, which the media and politicians will blame on "broken families" and "bad parenting."

Activists need to put the blame where it belongs: on the politicians who are putting our lives on the chopping block. And we need to organize to fight for the funding that our communities need and deserve.
Khury Peterson-Smith, Boston

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