The Melodic Line: The price of the media tag

By Melody Chen

As I switched on the news, a headline emerged on the screen — college student Molly Tibbetts was confirmed to be murdered a month after her disappearance. Tibbetts was about to begin her junior year at the University of Iowa, but her life was cut short in July while disappearing from her jog close by her home in Brooklyn, Iowa. The screen then shifted to a mugshot of the alleged murderer, Cristhian Bahena Rivera.

Shortly after the report, the attention veered to Rivera, an undocumented immigrant, who, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Agent Rick Rahn said, had no clear motive but was simply drawn in to abducting her. Rivera’s unclear motive and illegal immigrant status prompted politicians to call for reforms surrounding immigration regulations.

Politicians have taken advantage of the media to paint the unpromising sight of the current immigration laws. By using Tibbetts’ murder as an excuse to undermine immigration, several politicians including President Donald Trump have portrayed immigration in a denunciatory manner by labeling them as “illegal aliens” or “criminals.”

During President Trump’s rally in Charleston, Trump denounced the poor immigration and border laws and pointed again to the idea of building a wall to stop illegal aliens and criminals in Mexico from coming to the U.S.

Trump attached a negative label to illegal immigrants based on the actions of a few and reinforced the idea in Americans’ minds that all illegal immigrants are dangerous.

While it holds true that Rivera’s murderous act against an innocent college student was beyond unacceptable, the media coverage of Mollie Tibbett’s case was concerning.

The University of South California’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration suggests that the U.S. media coverage portrays immigration in a deceptive way. These news stories would spike and subdue at times, which would instill the audience into perceiving the immigration issue as a sudden surge of crisis.

Furthermore, news platforms, such as Vox, attempt to reveal the atrocities of border detention centers and evoke criticism from the audience to issues with respect to child separation and harsh conditions.

These galleries implicitly feed in to a single story that all illegal immigrants are criminals. This causes stereotypes to emerge and makes it difficult for us to to see illegal immigrants as anything but lawbreakers.

As the media continues to portray immigrants in such a negative light, these labels grow more distinct and act as confirming facts about a group of individuals. As a result, these stereotypes pile up such that we view every person belonging to the same group as a reflection of that one tag given to them. This needs to change.

Although Mollie Tibbetts’ case happened months ago, the issue of depicting immigration in a negative manner by reinforcing the stereotypes of certain groups remains pivotal such as hate crimes are inspired by the media and politics at the moment. The incomplete stories that we hear will only make us more susceptible to commit such generalizations about these groups.

Each tag that we place on a group inspired by the media and politicians carries a price that is not worth paying. The pile of tags will soon grow into a bubble from which people cannot escape. These incomplete stories will then fall away into undecipherable fragments of life.