TMZ's Marion Barry headline shows bias

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Sometimes, the best policing of mainstream media comes from social media. TMZ’s headline for Marion Barry’s death, reading “MARION BARRY CRACK MAYOR DEAD AT 78,” has created a stir.  Some have juxtaposed the image of this headline with the gossip’s site more deferential headline for actor Heath Ledger, who died from a drug overdose. The Ledger headline simply reads: “Heath Ledger Is Dead.”

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Barry, unlike Ledger, did not die from an overdose but instead was plagued by prostate cancer and diabetes in his late age. The 78-year-old four-term mayor and three-term councilman also received a liver transplant in 2009, which may have been a factor in his death. While Barry, nicknamed “Mayor For Life,” did have a well-publicized battle with substance abuse, that represented just one element of his legacy. Many supporters of Barry have taken the day to remember his early efforts in the civil rights movement and his dedication to lifting people from poverty.

Some have started a Change.org petition to get TMZ to take down and apologize for the distasteful headline.

Double-standards along racial lines in the media are nothing new. Just this year, many called foul on the use of the word “robbery” as oppose to the word “shoplifting” after a convenience store video was released by Ferguson police showing Michael Brown stealing cigars. After Katrina, many opposed the overuse of the word “looters” to describe victims of the hurricane who raided shuttered stores for food and other survival necessities.

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