Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An unusually local, rural story in the NY Times

Erica Goode reports today from Whitesburg, Kentucky, under the headline "Hard Times and a Killing in Kentucky's Coal Country."  The alternate headline is "Wife and Lover Charged in Coal Country Killing."  The story is of a local murder, one involving a love triangle.  It's really not a very unusual story at all--certainly not unusual enough to be in the New York Times.  Yet the Times devotes three-quarters of a page--the first page of the National Section--to it, including six photos.

Actually, the "Hard Times and a Killing" headline is quite apt because the story is as much a depiction of hard times in coal county as it is about the seemingly run-of-the-mill murder described.  Yet the two--"hard times" and "killing"--are not directly linked in any clear way, though Goode reports that the decedent had a couple of life insurance policies.  But Goode takes the opportunity of describing the amateurish actions of the two charged in the murder--the victim's wife and her alleged lover--also to offer a portrait of a rural place.  She writes:
Homicide is uncommon in this Appalachian county of 25,000 where the declining fortunes of the coal industry are measured in mine closings and layoffs:  On the day [of the decedent's disappearance], Arch Coal announced the layoff of 750 workers ... 
Sheriff Danny Webb said that the county has maybe two or three murders a year, mot of them linked to the illegal prescription drug trade or domestic violence, "and then we'll have fights or something turn bad," he said.  
Elsewhere Goode writes, though with no apparent relation to the murder except to mention Dradick Fleming, the man who was murdered, of the attachment to place and lack of anonymity characteristic of the community.
The Fleming family has worked in the coal mines for five generations and is well-known in Letcher County ... The community is tight knit--"If you don't know one of my children, you know the other one, and if you don't know them, you know me or my husband," Mrs. Bentley [the victim's mother] said--and Mr. Fleming's death hit hard.  
Whitesburg, Kentucky, population 2,139, is the county seat of Letcher County.  Since Goode raises the issue of "hard times," I'll note that the county poverty rate is 26.8% and the median household income just $ 31,283.  That's hard alright, though I note that the victim was murdered in his brand new pick up truck.

No doubt, these events were devastating for Mr. Fleming's family and many who knew him, but I can't help think it must have been a slow day on the National desk.

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