Two USC Students From China Gunned Down Near Campus

April 12, 2012

I know I’m going to get comments/email on this post telling me to chill out and stop nitpicking. Fair enough. But I really couldn’t help questioning how this story of two Chinese grad students who were killed in LA was dealt with in an Associated Press article. To me, the choice of language and emphasis suggests that there were some interesting thoughts floating around in the head of the author of the piece about Chinese students and their backgrounds, but hey, maybe I’m seeing things that don’t exist.

So here’s the headline: “LA Police Say 2 USC Engineering Grad Students From China Shot to Death Near Campus in BMW”

And the lede: “Gunfire shattered the window of the BMW near the University of Southern California campus just after midnight, striking two Chinese graduate students inside.”

Two more data points, then I’ll explain:

Tigolo [lives on the same street] said she would often see Wu [one of the victims], 23, in the neighborhood, wearing dark sunglasses but rarely saw her drive.

[ . . . ]

The types of students who come from abroad tend to skew wealthier because they often have less access to financial aid and must foot more of the bill themselves. With China’s economic boom, more families can now afford to send their children overseas.

OK, maybe I’m way out on a limb here. But I’m getting the picture of a grad student with a BMW who struts around wearing dark glasses and who probably comes from a wealthy family.


1. Why is the BMW relevant? Although carjacking is mentioned, there is no evidence that was the motive, and robbery is an alternative theory. If the point was to talk about the motivation for the shooting, why is there zero discussion of that topic? “BMW” is in the headline and the first line of the article. That’s a  great deal of emphasis.

2. Why put in that bit about Wu wearing dark glasses? She lived in freaking LA, why is that relevant to anything? Substitute the word “shoes” for “dark glasses” (most of us call them “sunglasses”) and it’s equally irrelevant, unless the goal is to paint a picture of a rich, aloof, to0-cool-for-school foreign student. By the way, that “rarely saw her drive” is interesting. If you don’t drive constantly in LA, there’s definitely something wrong with you. I know of which I speak.

3. The bit about Chinese families being wealthy was obvious filler towards the end of the article. I get that, but the writer did choose to include it over other possible factoids. Why nothing about the engineering programs they were in? Extracurricular activities?

Right. I think I’ve already said way too much and have invited severe criticism. I accept it all in good humor. But I still wonder whether all of those quotes put together paint a certain picture of these students that is at best irrelevant and at worst unfavorable.

UPDATE: Looks like I’m not the only one. Ministry of Tofu reports on criticism of the media coverage of this story.