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Georgia mother accused of killing children fits pattern of coverage focusing on crime, not circumstances, professor says

Monday, July 10, 2017

LAWRENCE — A Georgia woman was arrested last week, charged with stabbing four of her five children and her husband to death. In addition to the horrific crime, media coverage has focused largely on the behavior of Isabel Martinez, who smiled for courtroom cameras and gave thumbs-up gestures as well during initial appearances.

The case is especially gruesome and likely to get more attention than other cases of mothers accused of killing their children for a number of reasons, said Barbara Barnett, professor of journalism at the University of Kansas. Barnett has analyzed cases of mothers who have killed their children and the media coverage of the stories, and she has written about her findings in the book “Motherhood in the Media: Infanticide, Journalism and the Digital Age.” Barnett is available to discuss the Martinez case with media, coverage of the case thus far, the ongoing legal process, similar cases of infanticide, how mothers of such crimes are presented in media, how parenthood and stress are covered in both traditional media and motherhood blogs, and similar topics.

“Very often stories about women who kill their children focus on the crime and do not always examine the reasons for the crime. We as a society believe that mothers are always good, loving and kind, but when a child dies, the murderer is most often the parent, and mothers are as likely to kill children as fathers,” Barnett said.

For her book, Barnett analyzed media coverage of 20 cases of mothers who committed infanticide since the 1960s. Media has changed, but coverage of such cases has largely remained the same, she found. Without condoning or excusing the crimes, she says the women are nearly always presented as unfit mothers who simply “snapped,” and coverage presents a chance to “publicly flog” the accused. Circumstances such as the accused mother’s own history of abuse, depression, substance abuse or mental illness are rarely considered. Barnett advocates for better understanding of postpartum depression, mental health and the stresses of parenthood as a way to help recognize parents who might be likely to commit such crimes and prevent them before tragedy happens.

To schedule an interview, contact Mike Krings at 785-864-8860 or mkrings@ku.edu.

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