Something bad happened? Find a woman to blame… Virginia Tech and media coverage

// 19 April 2007

I am sure I wasn’t the only feminist to have a shiver of fear on hearing the news from Virginia Tech and wonder whether it was another Ecole Polytechnique misogynistic massacre.

However, even though it doesn’t seem to be gender related, the media have still found ways to make a woman to blame. The Metro published a headline above a photo of Emily Jane Hilscher, who was shot by Cho Seung-Hui, saying “The girl who led to massacre”. Under pressure they later amended the headline to Was it an obsession with Emily that drove gunman to kill?. So of course their opening line of “THIS is the face of the girl who may have sparked the worst school shooting in US history.” was what? A misprint? I am reminded of the recent Newham Recorder spat over the claims that loosing at football was like watching a gangrape.

Hilscher was killed in the massacre and friends have said she barely knew Cho and certainly initial reports that he was an ex-boyfriend were untrue. In fact there seems to just have been crossed wires, Hilscher’s ex-boyfriend from home, Karl Thornhill, was initially deemed of interest in the investigation, he was later questioned and released as uninvolved. Indeed it is thought Cho acted alone. But the words “boyfriend” and later news that the killer had been identified obviously meant journalists put two and two together and made, well a complete hash of the story. Not only that but they created a myth that a woman was, surely had to be, responsible for a young man committing an abhorrent act. Indeed the Australian Daily Telegraph, which ran with the same headline, has issued an apology and posted a discussion of it’s coverage after complaints which included

Say what you may about US laws and who should be fired. But never blame a victim for what happened. As others have posted the relationship most likely was in the murderer’s mind not the young woman’s.


“What a horrible way to phrase a tragedy. That poor girl is a victim of the worst mass-shooting and you victimize her again in a vain attempt to be clever. How dare you!”

To which the Daily Telepgraph lamely responded

Not for one second was our reporter or this paper’s editors suggesting that Emily was to blame.

Meanwhile, NBC was sent a package of videos, photographs and writings by Cho which have been released to the public after the FBI finished with them

So lets focus on what is true about Hilscher. A newsletter from her home district about her school achievements included that

Emily Hilscher placed first in the state in the food and beverage service competition. Emily qualified to compete at the National SkillsUSA conference in Kansas City, Missouri this June.Time Dispatch

Hilscher, a freshman majoring in animal and poultry sciences, was known around her hometown as an animal lover. “She worked at a veterinarian’s office and cared about them her whole life,” said Rappahannock County Administrator John W. McCarthy, a family friend. Hilscher, 19, of Woodville, was a freshman majoring in animal and poultry sciences. A friend, Will Nachless, also 19, said Hilscher “was always very friendly. Before I even knew her, I thought she was very outgoing, friendly and helpful, and she was great in chemistry.” Deseret News

For more on the misrepresentation of Hilscher see this blog.

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