On April 22, 2020, Fort Hood soldier Pfc. Vanessa Guillen vanished from her job on base. The Guillen family first became concerned when Vanessa's boyfriend texted her at noon, and his texts weren't read. This concerned him enough that he contacted Vanessa's sister Mayra who tried calling her but got no response. Unable to get in touch with her throughout the day, Mayra contacted Fort Hood at 9 p.m. that night. Strangely, Vanessa's disappearance seemed to have gone unnoticed for a hours that day. At one point after she had died, she was listed as accounted for, which raises obvious questions about why individuals in her chain of command weren't keeping tabs on her.
The army immediately opened a criminal investigation into Vanessa's mysterious disappearance and contacted local police. A $15,000 reward was offered. This spoke volumes. In most cases, when soldiers disappear it's because they've willingly left. The reward strongly indicated that Fort Hood had reason to believe Vanessa hadn't gone AWOL. However, when Fort Hood put out a news release about Vanessa's disappearance, they said she was last seen at 1 p.m. in a parking lot even though the family was unable to contact her a full hour and a half earlier. Her mother Gloria stopped receiving responses to her texts around 11:30 that morning. Fort Hood was apparently convinced that alleged sighting was accurate despite evidence from the family that Vanessa had gone missing earlier than that. When her phone records were retrieved, her last text had been sent at 11:30.
Over the weeks that followed, the Guillen family felt that Fort Hood wasn't taking the investigation seriously enough, and in some cases they said they were lied to. Tim Miller, founder of the search and rescue operation Texas EquuSearch, also expressed some frustration with how Fort Hood investigators handled the case. When news broke that remains that might be Vanessa's were found, Mayra didn't turn to Fort Hood CID for answers because of how unhelpful she felt they had been. She turned to Tim Miller.
Feeling like they were being ignored as weeks went by, the Guillen family took their case to the media. Spanish language outlets conducted heartbreaking interviews with Vanessa's mother Gloria. Translated from Spanish:
"If someone is listening to me and know something about my daughter, I ask you to take pity on my daughter who is suffering and on me who am a desperate mother who has not slept for more than 40 days, I hardly eat, I am very desperate. May someone have mercy, may fear God, and may you believe in God to have mercy and contact me, and if you know anything about my daughter…My daughter knows how I am with her, we are very close me and her, we have always been united, we go together to the shop, to the church, to eat the same thing, always the same me and her, that’s why it hurts me still, because I know that my daughter is suffering, because my mother’s heart is not wrong."
Over time, the story caught the attention of the national news media. Mexican-American celebrities like Salma Hayek and Becky G used their social media accounts to bring attention to her story. Even before Vanessa's dismembered remains were found buried in a field near the base, her disappearance had become a national news story. Latino activists organized protests around the country that garnered mainstream media attention.
Vanessa used to go home every weekend to be with her family. A few weeks before she disappeared, she complained to her mother about sexual harassment at the base. She told her about being followed around by one particular superior and said that he once walked in on her when she was showering. When her mother asked for the man's name, so that she could call the base and make a complaint, Vanessa apparently told her it was too dangerous and expressed concern he and others might harm her family who lived three hours away in Houston. She also said that other women at Fort Hood had complained about this particular individual and nothing was done.
This led to what NBC San Diego called a military "Me Too" movement.
"The death of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen has sparked a military “Me Too” movement online using the hashtags #IamVanessaGuillen and #JusticeforVanessa. Women are posting the hashtags along with graphic accounts of sexual assaults they say they experienced while in the U.S. military."
Vanessa Guillen has received extensive mainstream news coverage
Over the weeks I was following the story, I regularly checked various left wing media sources looking for their take on Vanessa's disappearance and the military 'Me Too' it sparked. I was surprised to find few references to it at all. I couldn't find any coverage on Crooks and Liars, Daily Kos, or Pajiba. I didn't find any posts on Oh No They Didn't, a popular entertainment blog which often covers social justice issues, despite the involvement of Hispanic celebrities trying to raise awareness. Even Jezebel.com, a site whose main focus is feminism, had little on the story. They only addressed a comment by Betsy Schoeller, a retired Air Force Lt. Col., who seemed to blame Vanessa for what happened to her. They covered Scholler's defense that her words were taken out of context, even though others who saw her various comments said she did indeed seem hostile toward Vanessa. Considering that Vanessa was bludgeoned with a hammer while at work, it's surprising that a feminist website isn't covering her story in depth.
Rawstory.com covered her disappearance briefly on June 20, but I haven't been able to find any follow up. I also couldn't find any coverage on slate.com. The only story I found on HuffPost.com was from July 3rd when Vanessa's remains were identified. Democracy Now covered it on July 2nd. NowThis News is the only progressive outlet I'm aware of that's done extensive coverage of her case.
When prominent politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, tweeted about Vanessa calling for a congressional investigation into the handling of her case, I returned to these media sources expecting to see some coverage. Nanci Pelosi, Tammy Duckworth, Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, MJ Hegar, John Cornyn, and Ted Cruz all tweeted about her case asking for an investigation. Yet there was still silence from much of the left leaning media. The Young Turks did post about the case on their Facebook.
Why has this huge mainstream media story involving a Latina victim received so little attention from outlets that are usually so vocal about violence against women? Some suggested it's because her killer Aaron David Robinson was black.
There are a lot of comments on social media making similar claims that certain media is deliberating overlooking this case because of the race of the man who ended Vanessa's life. Have liberal outlets avoided bringing attention to a brutal murder committed by a black man, despite the social justice elements of the case? It's hard to say because it was being largely ignored before his identity was known. Is it possible that these outlets were waiting to see if her disappearance had happened at the hands of a white man before waiting to address it? Maybe, but violence by black men isn't something that's completely ignored by left wing media just like violence by white men isn't completely ignored by right wing media. Even though most of his victims were white, Bill Cosby received a ton of coverage and criticism from left wing media. The Birth of a Nation, a movie by black director Nate Parker did poorly at the box office. Left leaning outlets repeatedly covering a criminal case where he was credibly accused of raping a white woman probably played a big role in that.
Perhaps it was a matter of timing. After weeks of protests surrounding the brutal killing of George Floyd, there may be progress in addressing police violence against black people. Is it possible that liberal sites fear that covering Vanessa's case may somehow undermine that? It's possible, but left leaning outlets also mostly avoided the 2018 abduction of 13 year old Hania Aguilar even though her case received a lot of MSM attention. There was also a strong social justice element to her case. DNA evidence linked her kidnapper to a 2016 rape, but investigators never followed up. If they had, Hania would almost certainly be alive today. And it's not like these outlets generally avoid missing person cases. The Jayme Closs case was covered by most of the outlets I've mentioned here. The media outlets that are the most likely to criticize missing white women syndrome have strangely ignored the stories of both Vanessa and Hania even though the mainstream press covered their cases extensively.
I don't know how to explain this, but I don't think it's as simple as look at the race of the killer. However, if race is playing some kind of role, that's a problem. Women are often killed by someone they know and it's usually by someone who shares their race. White women are usually killed by white men, black women by black men, etc. If left leaning media does downplay killings by men of color they will in the process be downplaying the deaths of women of color. Progressive outlets are the ones who should be bringing attention to violence against women from marginalized groups, yet in both of these cases they've largely looked the other way.
And if race is a factor in why Vanessa Guillen's story isn't getting as much coverage by liberal outlets as it deserves, that's disappointing. Her story could be a catalyst that brings about changes to protect men and women in the military from harassment and violence. To have that impact, her tragic death needs coverage to put pressure on both lawmakers and military officials to act. Progressives can seize this moment and use it to bring about much-needed change, or they can ignore it and risk Vanessa's terrible fate being for nothing. With her killer dead, the best way to get justice for Vanessa Guillen is to have a bill in her name that will protect future generations who sign up to protect their country. Progressive media outlets can use their considerable reach to help bring that about.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2020 Learn Things Web
Learn Things Web (author) from California on July 20, 2020:
There may be something to that. Hispanic and Asian issues don't seem to get a whole lot of coverage overall, including in Liberal media where you would expect to see more focus on minority communities.
EL on July 19, 2020:
progressive media doesn't cover latinx issues much beyond undocumented immigrants and daca. even the recent news latinx are getting covid at much higher rates than whites isn't receiving the level of coverage of higher rates among blacks. a recent study found issues facing black women also don't get much attention among progressives. many issues facing latinx are kind of invisible and not all groups are treated equally.
Learn Things Web (author) from California on July 15, 2020:
A counter-argument I’ve seen to that is if Vanessa had been a white woman Fort Hood would have taken her disappearance more seriously. Based on the number of white women who have come forward with horror stories of rape, harassment, and retaliation in the military, I don’t believe that’s true at all.
Someone who makes that kind of argument wouldn’t look at this case positively (for lack of a better word) in that a woman of color is making an enormous impact and much of the country is outraged over what happened to her. They’re looking at it negatively as a woman of color that the military was dismissive of. If she had been white and everything had happened the exact same way, they would have looked at it as a white woman making an enormous impact, not as a white woman who had been treated dismissively by the military.
People block out contradictory evidence undermining their worldviews all the time, so I don’t know if this aspect of it is enough to depress coverage.
Rob on July 13, 2020:
Here’s my theory. Liberals and conservatives have certain worldviews and they don’t like it very much or at all when thos worldviews are upended. Think of something you hear liberals complain about constantly. White privilege. Well, uh, that’s kind of a problem here. Right??? These are a couple of quotes from the New York Times article I read recently.
‘the horrific killing of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen has swept the nation, galvanizing even civilians to the cause.’
‘Her death has attracted the attention of the nation — veterans, active-duty service members and civilians alike.’
The murder of a woman-of-color is galvanizing the nation!!! People of all colors have followed this story. And they're angry, outraged and heartbroken. I’m not suggesting white privilege isn’t a thing. Just that it’s less of a thing than it used to be and becoming less and less year-by-year.
Now what happens to people whose worldview revolves around white privilege being this overwhelming thing and here’s a woman of color becoming a huge national story breaking through the coronavirus, blm protests, the presidential election and Trump’s neverending scandals?
If Vanessa Guillen was white, no doubt in my mind liberal media would be all over this story with the caveat, oh it’s important this is happening but if she was a woman of color, we would never hear about it. Uh, but here’s a latina, and now there’s this big movement around her. There’s a civilian commission being approinted to figure out what happened. Biden and a ton of congress people and senators have tweeted about her. There will be a congressional oversight investigation. Houston has named July 11 Vanessa Guillen day. There are murals honoring her all over the country. Something like 2000 people drove in a memorial convoy to honor her in San Antonio. The worldview of liberals on white privilege is being challenged by this. I’m not saying this is deliberate, that liberal editors and writers are having meetings and saying let’s avoid this massive national story because it undermines this thing we’re always talking about. It’s mainly subconscious. Like it confuses them to see this happening and they aren’t exactly sure how to process it because it doesn’t fit their biases. Conservatives are just as bad for disregarding anything that challenges dearly held beliefs. It’s easier to ignore it than to make alterations to their worldview.
Learn Things Web (author) from California on July 13, 2020:
Thanks Mel. The coverage provided by Spanish language outlets seems to be what catapulted this into the national spotlight. I'd love to see progressive media give it the attention it deserves, but so far, they've been largely MIA.
Mel Carriere from San Diego California on July 12, 2020:
Well, my wife is Hispanic and the Mexican media certainly has not been silent. Middle of the road KFI Los Angeles, the station I listen to, has their daily sound bites on it as well. Certainly a tragic situation, and we'll see where it goes. I appreciate your balanced approach to this topic, giving credit where credit is due. Very well written article.