On August 15, Joe Dukepoo, the Vice President of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, expressed the tribe’s disappointment over the biased media coverage in California in regards to Vern Traversie, a Cheyenne River Sioux elder who was allegedly a victim of assault while in the care of the Rapid City Regional Hospital in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Traversie, a legally blind American Indian who was in the hospital for open-heart surgery in 2011 released his story earlier this year after being fed up by the lack of movement through a previous lawyer. One of the items in the case is what appears to be the scarring of the letters “KKK” on his abdomen that could be considered a hate crime.
Dukepoo addressed an instance in May when California papers published an Associated Press story comparing Traversie’s scars to seeing the Virgin Mary in a water stain according to a Round Valley press release. The release states, “Subsequently, a commentator for the Long Beach Post compared the scars to seeing ‘the Virgin Mary in a window stain and a potato chip Jesus,’ and in July a Los Angeles Times reporter compared the scars to seeing ‘the face of the Virgin Mary in a taco shell.’
Dukepoo, who handles media relations for his tribes, called the coverage “biased, demeaning and disrespectful.”
Dukepoo released a full written statement in regards to the coverage which is below:
Greetings. I am the Vice President of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Covelo, Mendocino County, California. I write to express my deep displeasure with coverage by the Associated Press, the Long Beach Post and the Los Angeles Times that is biased, demeaning and disrespectful news coverage regarding the media coverage of Vern Traversie’s situation, and to ask that each news outlet named issue some form of corrective statement.
As the person who is primarily engaged with my Tribes’ external and media communications, I have been following the story of Mr. Traversie, a blind Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal elder from Eagle Butte, S.D., who was apparently lead to believe by various medical providers and others that “KKK” had been etched into his abdomen while he was in convalescent care after open heart surgery at Rapid City Regional Hospital last summer.
I was first troubled to read on the websites of multiple California newspapers a story by Associated Press reporter Kristi Eaton in May, in which she described Mr. Traversie’s scars akin to seeing the Virgin Mary in a water stain. That was such a slap in the face to Mr. Traversie, whose scars have been documented by medical professionals. But what really infuriated me was when newspapers in my home state of California began to play off of Ms. Eaton’s biased reporting, and even more seriously insulted Mr. Traversie.
A couple days later, the Long Beach Post columnist called the sightings of Mr. Traversie’s scars like that of “the Virgin Mary window stain and potato-chip Jesus.” Analogizing a potential hate crime to these pop-cultural blips is bad enough but it is reprehensible that they would use eyesight as the lens for these disgusting metaphors – given that Mr. Traversie cannot see.
Even worse, I’ve read that Mr. Traversie is a devout Christian, so it is deplorable that these reporters would make Christian religious references, insulting not only his tribal identity and disability but also his religion. The reporters who wrote these words have dehumanized and insulted Mr. Traversie in ways that are almost as unfathomable to me as anybody etching three K’s into his body for the rest of his life.
But the Long Beach Post stooped to an unthinkable journalistic low, in accusing the blind tribal elder of being “ludicrously gullible” and otherwise of having “fabricated” his story. The writer for that newspaper then turned the tables on Mr. Traversie altogether by accusing him of doing something untoward or illegal, by reporting a “bogus” hate crime! I was shocked, and remain outraged, especially because the biased coverage has not stopped.
On July 17, Los Angeles Time reporter John M. Glionna piled on with another glib comparison, in describing people who have seen Mr. Traversie’s scars as like those who “see the face of the Virgin Mary in a taco shell.”
We may never know whether a hate crime was committed upon Mr. Traversie in the form of the Klu Klux Klan acronym being carved into his body. But it is obvious that he believes that those things happened, and there is no doubt that he cannot see those scars for himself, as he is blind. He has filed suit against the hospital where this happened, and jury of his peers will finally decide the matter, not newspaper contributors.
No matter, the mainstream media owed, and still owes, him and the [sic] their entire readership a duty of unbiased and fair news coverage. Through my eyes, it is clear that journalistic ethics have been breached, and that some form of correction is warranted by the Associated Press, the Long Beach Post and the Los Angeles Times.