[NetBehaviour] Why Media Hide the Suicide Protest of Malachi Ritscher

kanarinka kanarinka at ikatun.com
Tue Nov 28 17:37:22 CET 2006

FROM: http://sf.indymedia.org/news/2006/11/1733063.php

Why Media Hide the Suicide Protest of Malachi Ritscher
by SACCO Saturday, Nov. 18, 2006 at 1:32 PM

When the monks in Vietnam immolate themselves all the world had  
informations . When Jan Palach in Czechoslovakia immolate himself  
every body knew it . To day an American citizen make the same ...and  
embedded US medias are silents


Saturday Demo For Malachi and Against the War


Demonstration for Malachi Ritscher: Saturday, Nov. 18th, 1 p.m. at  
the Elastic Arts Foundation, 2830 N. Milwaukee Ave., 2nd Floor

Details and destination site will be announced on-location. Sign- 
making materials will be provided. Bring a little cash to help cover  
expenses. It's anticipated that people will be in action downtown by  

On November 3rd, Chicagoan Malachi Ritscher immolated himself in  
front of rush hour traffic to protest the war. The only objective  
news coverage it got was a tiny blurb in the back of the Sun-Times  
and a brief "breaking news" spot on a local TV station. Malachi's  
friends and concerned citizens are planning a demonstration on  
Saturday to respond to the lack of coverage around Malachi's death  
and to protest the war in Iraq.

Demonstration for Malachi Ritscher
Saturday, Nov. 18th, 1 p.m. at:
The Elastic Arts Foundation
2830 N. Milwaukee Ave.
2nd Floor

Details and destination site will be announced on-location. Sign- 
making materials will be provided. Bring a little cash to help cover  
expenses. It's anticipated that people will be in action downtown by  

The following op-ed piece was written by Jennifer Diaz.

I heard you, Malachi
Jennifer Diaz
November 9, 2006

Did you ever burn your hand on a stove? Do you remember the pain of it?

On Friday, November 3, a man doused his body with gasoline and set  
himself afire to protest the war in Iraq . He died quietly in flames.  
His name was Malachi Ritscher.

Haven't seen it in the news? Me neither, which is kind of strange if  
you ask me, considering that it happened right here in downtown  
Chicago in front of hundreds of commuters during morning rush hour.  
The only conventional newspaper coverage to date was a tiny paragraph  
that appeared in the Saturday edition of the Chicago Sun-Times. Since  

Should we concerned about the lack of coverage? This is serious,  
friends. You don't have to be a communication scholar to know that  
the news media go by the maxim, "When it bleeds, it leads." In a time  
of intense controversy over war, a man offers up his life and endures  
prolonged, excruciating pain to make a tangible statement of his  
belief in peace - are we to believe that this isn't newsworthy?

When Thich Quang Duc, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, set himself on  
fire in 1963 to protest the corrupt and brutal regime of Ngo Dinh  
Diem, it was all over the media. A lucid, well respected American  
citizen makes the ultimate sacrifice on American soil four days  
before a national election - I ask again: is there no story here?

I would assert that there are two stories here. One is that A MAN SET  
that, in a society where a rogue government is afforded the power to  
"create reality" and where the once objective news media have become  
politicized conglomerates either owned by or cozy with the powers  
that they are supposed to be watchdogging, a lack of coverage on a  
newsworthy story warrants close scrutiny.

Deeply disturbed by this event since I got word of it, I felt  
compelled to investigate it further. In memory of Mr. Ritscher, I  
write now of both stories.

As you read, I implore you: agree or disagree, but do not be  
indifferent. This man's message was important enough to him to choose  
an excruciatingly painful death - so that you and I would hear it.

A traffic nuisance

Malachi Ritscher had a home-made sign with him when he left the house  
Friday morning. Firefighters found it next to his charred remains. It  
read, "Thou shalt not kill."

A jazz aficionado who produced professional recordings of countless  
performers in local venues, Ritscher was well loved in the Chicago  
jazz community and has been described by members of that scene as  
being a warm, modest and selfless individual. A long-time music  
enthusiast, Ritscher was a fixture at several local jazz haunts. He  
was said to be very generous - band members tell that he would pay  
the admission fee for their gig, record their performance, and then  
offer them the recording he had made free of charge. Many of the  
recordings were later sold commercially. Others corroborate  
Ritscher's generous nature. "He gave me peppers from his garden!"  
cried bartender Janice W., tearing up when she heard what he had done.

Ritscher was deeply disturbed by the United States' waging of war in  
Iraq , which has led so far to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of  
Iraqis. In his mission statement, posted on his homepage along with a  
self-written obituary, he writes of his morbid actions:

"I refuse to finance the mass murder of innocent civilians...What is  
one more life thrown away in this sad and useless national tragedy?  
If one death can atone for anything, in any small way, to say to the  
world: I apologize for what we have done to you, I am ashamed for the  
mayhem and turmoil caused by my country."

One can only imagine what Ritscher must have been thinking as he made  
his way to the site of his self-immolation - the aptly chosen "Flame  
of the Millenium" sculpture west of Chicago 's downtown loop. Would  
Americans appreciate his sacrifice? Would it be a force for good in  
the world? One thing he surely didn't expect, as he watched a sea of  
morning commuters crawl by on the nearby Kennedy expressway: that it  
would go unnoticed.

But that is just what has happened. At some point after Ritscher's  
ordeal began, a motorist called police to report that a statue was  
burning. Except for those who happened to read the blurb in the Sun- 
Times or to see a short "breaking news" spot on Chicago's CBS2 local  
news station, the hundreds of motorists who drove by the incident  
still know it only as a traffic annoyance - that "statue-fire" that  
was slowing things up on the I-90 Friday morning.

A different kind of news hole

Because there has been no further coverage of it in any of the main  
news outlets, they - and most other Americans - will never know what  
Ritscher did - what one man was willing to do to make a difference in  
the world.

"I don't understand," people have told me. "Why wouldn't the papers  
run it?" Their puzzlement comes from a lingering, tenacious belief in  
the objectivity of the news. Moments like these - high news value, no  
story - are particularly valuable in that they expose our news media  
for what they have become: corporate black boxes from which the only  
news that escapes is that which cooperates with profit margins and  
political allegiances.

In the new era of "synergy," or coordinated advertising among  
corporate affiliates, media conglomerates have formed alliances with  
some of the (other) largest companies in the world. Time-Warner/AOL,  
the globe's largest media conglomerate and owner of CNN, is  
affiliated with cooperative giant Kraft and Viacom, another corporate  
behemoth. Additionally, the generous campaign contributions  
invariably made by such conglomerates to politicians suggests another  
kind of synergy - a political one. As it pertains to objective news  
reporting, synergy means that there are more toes to step on - and  
therefore more rules to follow - about what types of stories  
reporters can run (and more importantly, not run).

The fact that Ritscher's bold anti-war message came right before an  
election, combined with the conspicuous lack of coverage on the event  
suggests a conservative bias to the news, not a liberal one, as goes  
the government-sanctioned myth on the topic.

Some will suggest "copycat prevention" as an explanations for the  
lack of coverage; news outlets are known to occassionally self-censor  
sensational acts of murder or suicide in order to avoid glamorizing  
them and inspiring similar behavior in others. But they routinely  
break this rule when the murder or suicide is deemed important enough  
for the public to know about. Reports of school shootings have been  
followed by more school shootings, but we still hear of those. Why?  
Because the American public needs to know what's going on in our  
schools. We also need to know the effect the war is having on its  

Ritscher's passion

Although his act might have had some influence on the midterm  
elections, had it been heard, the relevance of his message extends  
beyond any short term outcome. Instead, Ritscher entreats Americans  
to change their attitudes.

Lamenting what he saw as a moral vacuousness in American culture, the  
would-be martyr felt that Americans are "...more concerned with  
sports on television and ring-tones on cell-phones than the future of  
the world." Ritscher saw the problem as being due to a gross  
deficiency of personal responsibility in American culture, and  
offered his self-immolation in a spirit of unified atonement.

Some have suggested that Ritscher's actions can be explained by  
mental illness. It seems clear that the man was deeply troubled. But  
it is not clear how that negates his message. At a time when 10% of  
Americans are taking psychiatric medication, the marginalization of  
"the mentally ill" as an identifiable group of people radically  
different from ourselves is making less and less sense. Besides  
"disturbed," Ritscher is also described by those who knew him as  
being an animated, friendly person who talked enthusiastically of his  
many interests and travels in addition to his political beliefs.

Another description that people have applied to Ritscher's mind- 
boggling choice is "senseless." But his own mission statement offers  
an elegant response to that notion:

"My position is that I only get one death, I want it to be a good  
one. Wouldn't it be better to stand for something or make a  
statement, rather than a fiery collision with some drunk driver? Are  
not smokers choosing death by lung cancer? Where is the dignity  
there? Are not the people the people [sic] who disregard the  
environment killing themselves and future generations?"

In addition to intent, the mission statement reveals a strong sense  
of moral duty and a faith in the God of his understanding. In the  
document, he presents his act as an example of a lived, choice-based  
faith that he feels is lacking from modern religious life.

In a gentle - but pointed - rebuke to Christian pop culture, which is  
said to have been a key factor in both of George W. Bush's  
presidential campaigns, Ritscher asks, "Who would Jesus bomb?" And  
alluding to the intense and politicized culture warring of recent  
years, he implores Christians, Jews and Muslims alike to believe that  
"God's message is tolerance and love, not self-righteousness and  

As beings we are born with a life currency and the administrative  
powers to spend it as we see fit. Some will denounce Malachi Ritcher  
for squandering his life-money. Others will love him for putting it  
where his mouth was. No matter where you fall on that continuum you  
must agree: his act should buy him more than a mere traffic mention.  
Unfortunately, all the papers want these days is the green stuff. --

Jennifer Diaz is a graduate student of communication at the  
University of Illinois at Chicago . She can be contacted at  
iheardyoumalachi.org or at indiejennn (at) gmail.com.
More resources:

Ritscher homepage, "Mission Statement":
Ritscher homepage, Obituary:
Ritscher homepage, March, 2005 protest:
Sun-Times article:
CBS2 news spot:
Chicago Reader online music blog:
FAIR media watchgroup:

**More links, as of Nov. 13:

Main website:
Good blog entry:
Recent Suntimes column pieces:
Wikipedia entries:
Malachi list of recordings: http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll| 

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