Culture

About the Cocaine Apartment and the Tender Reporting of a White Victim

The media doesn’t even TRY to ACT like it isn’t engaging in shady ass biased practices anymore. We are all clear that press has never been objective, and outlets lean one way or another, based on who is behind them and the people they hire. They have set agendas and what they cover and how they cover are strategic decisions. Unfortunately, when most of the people in media are white, it means that their biases are going to affect the reporting of stories based on color more often than not.

The Daily Beast reported on the story of a white woman (Kiersten Rickenbach Cerveny) who was found dead at a place known to be a “cocaine apartment” in New York City.

Below is a screenshot of the top of the article.

Cocaine Apartment

If I didn’t even mention the woman’s color, you would have been able to guess, based on how gentle this piece was written. It is almost laughable how they treated that story with care. You’d think they were reporting on how she died in a church or something.

The fact that right under headline was the sentence “A beautiful Long Island dermatologist and mother of three died after a night out partying.” Wow. The first thing she is doing to paint the picture of this woman is to remind us that she is beautiful and has three kids. Plus, the company she was keeping was of an accomplished producer. LOOK, YALL. She wasn’t just hanging with hoodrats! YAY. If she were Black, they would have used this opportunity to remind us that she abandoned her 3 kids to go party in NYC and it doesn’t matter who she was hanging with. That part would be left out unless the person was worth describing in some villainous way.

Then we get told that she had a “night of blowing off steam.” You mean she had a night of who knows what types of shenanigans? Right. That’s what you meant. Because when white woman takes to the city to party, it is self-care. Yup.

side eye cersei gif

In spite of the fact that the headline of the piece says she “overdoses,” it takes 2 paragraphs into the article for this writer to even bring up the idea that she MIGHT have been POSSIBLY doing cocaine. Talk about burying the lede. They even had a source tell them that it is rumored that she liked drugs. WORD? I wouldn’t have thought. Are you sure though? We don’t want to accuse this woman of things that are unlikely. Because being found in the doorway of a place known to be littered with drugs just gets you scratching your head on what really could have happened.

In the bending backwards of ensuring that this article does not speak too harshly of the woman who died, the word “overdose” appears on the page 3 times. One of those times was in the title of the article and the other time was in the video reporting the story. If she was a woman of color and they found her within 3 blocks of somewhere THOUGHT to be a crack house, the story would start off with “Police suspect she used drugs.” Stories reporting on drugs and Black people are never shy about throwing out guesses with the cowardly “allegedly” immediately following so they cover their asses. Here, they are so cautious about planting ideas that they even hold back on talking about what is the most likely option.

But here she is. Found dead without panties on, and we get ONE paragraph about the state she was found in. There was no guessing about how much drugs she might have taken or what illicit activity she might have engaged in. They even try to punch up the place she was last seen alive. Rich, white people get “cocaine apartment.” I wonder if that is next door to the heroine loft, which I heard is right by the meth mansion. She was at a crack house. Let’s call a spade a spade.

Kiersten Rickenbach Cerveny

Kiersten Rickenbach Cerveny. May she rest.

As the story continues, we learn more about how she had been an upstanding citizen with a background full of interesting life lived. Let her have been Black. We would have learned about that one time when she stole the last pink starburst in her best friend’s pack. Nope. We instead learn that this woman was a beauty queen who graduated high school at the top of her class, and she got a scholarship to med school.

The person who died is white, rich, skinny, blond. Seems her only non-privilege is the fact that she’s a woman. But: white woman IS its own, as we are well aware. She got the faberge egg treatment that is typical. She was handled with the utmost concern.

This is what you get when people see themselves in victims. The woman who wrote that piece is also white. What is happening here is empathy. When our media is full of white people telling stories, they get to color the way they tell stories involving Black people and other people of color. There is no empathy when they report on us because they don’t see themselves in the people they are reporting. They see thugs. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is seeing yourself in them. Media lacks empathy for people of color so we get lambasted. We don’t get our full humanity recognized. We get finger pointing and strong language that blames us for the state we were found in.

It lets me know that we need more diversity in news rooms and in outlets. Most importantly, we need to stop the vilifying of people of color as inherently bad, and white people as “the good ones.” So when crimes are committed or people die, we do not jump to a script that paints people as angels or demons based on how much melanin is in their skin.

This piece is written so gently that I think Barney might use it to create lyrics in his next “I love you” song. It’s so dainty that you have to read it as Enya music plays in the background. This story is reported on with so much sensitivity that it made Drake cry.

Drake cry gif

Really though. They said “cocaine apartment.” No one laughed at the absurdity? They legitimized a place where people do white powder by acting like it is part of the condo association.

I do appreciate how nice this article is because it shows that people CAN speak well of those who succumb (allegedly or really) to drugs. We do have it in us to be kind about those who overdose or die any way besides homicide. We can find nice things to say, even when someone might have lost their lives in cloudy ways. It is a “this is too bad” not a “we told you so” tone, as it should be. Now, if only we could extend this honor to those who do not look like Kiersten Rickenbach Cerveny or inhabit her social class.

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61 Comments

  1. Mellie
    October 7, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    As a journalism major, and one of about 8 out of a few hundred, part of the problem is WHO pursues careers in journalism and the roles we pursue therein. My classmates and professors collectively make me ill–but these are the people who are shaping the next generation. Last year, I was APPALLED at the reaction(s) of both students and faculty to the Ebola crisis and Michael Brown’s death. Until we see greater representation of minority voices in media, media bias will continue–strong!

    I definitely aspire to be an influencer behind the scenes, if only to do my part in shaping the rhetoric.

    • Michele
      October 7, 2015 at 3:42 pm

      Your post gives me hope that the industry hasn’t become complete garbage.

      I earned my Journalism degree almost 30 years ago (damn, just realized I’m really old), and it makes me sad to see that these issues have never gone away. It’s like everybody forgot about the Kerner Commission report and its warnings about not having diversity in the newsroom.

      Thankfully today there’s many more outlets where our stories can be told without being at the mercy of print or TV, but that doesn’t give the latter an excuse to be lazy. But ratings and profits are the order of the day, so the media honchos are completely okay with it. SMH.

    • adriana
      October 7, 2015 at 4:07 pm

      The WHO is largely affected by the very real barriers that keep them from being accepted into these programs, and later, from being hired.

  2. Mellie
    October 7, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    I hit submit too quickly, there are only 8 out of a few hundred in the journalism program.

  3. EJ Lee
    October 7, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    I will be eyeballing the daily beast from now on to see how they “report” the unfortunate death of a woman of color!!!

    • Tam
      October 7, 2015 at 4:32 pm

      Oh you don’t have to worry about, it probably won’t be reported at all.

  4. Suebob
    October 7, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Kiersten Cerveny went out and left her three children for a night-long drug and alcohol binge before being found dead Sunday morning, police said. Her body was found slumped in the doorway of a Manhattan apartment, far from the woman’s home.

    Sources say she had been out with notorious entertainment-industry figures and was seen doing drugs in a hotel and an apartment building prior to her demise.

    Authorities said the woman was married, though her husband was not present at the incident.

    Cerveny, 37, worked in the medical field.

    • TeeNikki
      October 7, 2015 at 2:47 pm

      Yup.

    • Jill
      October 8, 2015 at 9:12 am

      There ya go.

    • Michelle
      December 23, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      Well said!!!

  5. teenapop
    October 7, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    I’m so glad you spoke about this. I first heard this story on the news Monday morning when the circumstances surrounding her death were still considered somewhat suspicious. I couldn’t fathom what made this particularly newsworthy given that many people must die in the city under questionable circumstances every day. Then I saw the picture and heard the buzzwords doctor, Long Island, mother of 3. I certainly don’t mean to be unsympathetic about this woman’s life or death, but had she been a black woman, even a black woman of the same level of professional accomplishment and social status, I don’t feel the language used would have been harsher. I feel it would have been non-existent. No one would have cared at all.

  6. Kay
    October 7, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    A trap house by any other name is……..a trap house. As you state so eloquently – this is too bad, but she died in trap house with her drawers in her purse. Let’s not absolve her of having any part in this, media.

    • BK39
      October 7, 2015 at 2:16 pm

      Not only did she OD, but she probably took part in a 3-way prior to her death. A woman of color would be called the Whore of Babylon for this.

      • Kay
        October 7, 2015 at 2:30 pm

        Yep – plus there are conflicting reports about whether or not she had a top on when the upstanding gentlemen who abandoned her dragged her out of the “Powder Palace,” which…errr….at the very least they are likely to find a helluva lot of cocaine residue on her chest. But if she were a WOC she could’ve been found wearing a damn habit and a raucous three-way would’ve still been fully assumed!

  7. Cindy Loo
    October 7, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    The piece was definitely a bit flowery- I first heard it on the news where it was much more factual.

    No matter colorful writing and fairy tale tone was used, ALL persons with some bit of sense draw the same conclusion–Dr. ODs–clearly had a lot of troubles…don’t let facades fool you…no matter how it’s written

  8. October 7, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    Truth truth truth served at this truth buffet of all you can eat TRUTH. What a tragedy–her death and our media’s structure of racism.

  9. BK39
    October 7, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    I will now be referring to all “crack houses” as “cocaine apartments” from now on. Gives it that uptown swanky feeling, now doesn’t it?

    • Tamikka Johnson
      October 17, 2015 at 10:23 pm

      Ha! Powder Room.

  10. Midge
    October 7, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    PSLs will be served half full today to honour the surprise passing of the woman who refuses to drink tap water but who could bang out three lines before she finished her first drink. Please respect her family’s privacy at this time but follow their healing journey on instagram #thepartysover #keepcokeoutofcondosexceptonnewyearsandbirthdaysendinginzero #orfive. In lieu of flowers, please donate to Sofia, Jed and Capulet’s gap year travel fund.

  11. nicki
    October 7, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    “blowing off steam”

    Doesn’t that apply to EVERYONE who goes out to a club, bar, pub, party, theater, coffee shop, restaurant, juice bar, food truck, playground, mall, fairground, and park?

    More appropriate to write “after a night of doing blow”?

    • Jill
      October 8, 2015 at 9:14 am

      I have 3 children and a husband. Blowing off steam for me is sneaking to the Cheesecake Factory by myself.

      • Heather
        November 30, 2015 at 8:41 am

        Exactly! Or coffee and a cinnamon bun with a great friend! (oops, too WASPy?)

  12. Rie
    October 7, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    The empathy/sympathy applies to policing too Luvvie. As a former Police Officer AND Producer this junk is rampant on all fronts.

  13. Hunnee
    October 7, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Just another OD at a crack house…in whitesplain.

  14. Me Talk Pretty
    October 7, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    God, I’m so glad you said this. I was thinking the same thing when I read about this yesterday.

    The only think I would add is I think this is more about the intersection of class and race rather than race by itself, because I doubt cute bottle blonde Sharlene from the trailer park would have got kid gloves treatment either.

    Anyway, this chick was naked and coked out with 2 strange men and I had to get to the 3rd paragraph of the article I was reading before that little tidbit was written. Dude. She was binging on drugs and likely screwing around on her husband when she died, but y’all had to take time out to fill the page with quotes about what a good mother and nice person she was before y’all let that slip?

    The next time I see them rip some disenfranchised person to shreds over a traffic stop or something I’m just going to print out this article, roll it up into a ball and smack the reporter upside the head with it.

  15. Tina
    October 7, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    Look for the first story in the NY Post late Saturday early Sunday they have no shame put the girl on blast had the picture of her laying between the doors

  16. Shirley
    October 7, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    Remember how dirty the did the black woman who lied about her residence so her kid could go to a better school? They found drugs on her and she got 5 years.

    Not a one got arrested for having a dead overdosed woman in a residence labeled a cocaine apartment.

  17. tmh0
    October 7, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    A few weeks back I heard a tender sweet story on the radio about all of the not-ethnic not-urbanites addicted to heroin — and how public policy about addiction needed to change so these poor innocents could get help without being incarcerated — because not-urban is a public health crisis, while urban is illegal junky stuff. These poor people had been duped (duped I say!) into addiction to pills by their legitimate physicians writing legitimate prescriptions, but then, you know, to save money at the drug counter had later turned to heroin. It was not the USERS fault that any of this had happened, that their insurance had stopped covering their Oxycontin habit, and only natural that they would seek relief for their totally legitimate physical pain.

    • Alisha
      October 8, 2015 at 11:59 am

      I have noticed the difference between how the Heroin epidemic and the Crack epidemic are reported and it’s laughable. I have seen this reported on National News as a “human interest” story that deserves our sympathy and I could not believe they actually went into the homes of white families and shared the “tragedy” of having a child addicted to Heroin. How they made these people look like they were just responding to negative circumstances due to the downturn of the economy in those areas. They also made the families look heroic for fighting to keep their drug addicted children alive. Meanwhile, the crack epidemic was reported as a reckless group of criminals and bottomfeeders who are bringing our country down. Also, parents of crack addicts are failures. It’s crazy how they take the same exact scenario and report it completely different.

  18. Melissa Lawler
    October 7, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    There is a media double standard and it’s bullshit. But it’s not just the media, it’s the police and society in general. For every one step forward it seem like we go 50 years back.

  19. Attygirl
    October 7, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    When I read this gentle yarn this morning, I was sitting in a seminar for attorneys on implicit bias. This right here is a PERFECT example.

  20. Mysti
    October 7, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    When this story first came out, I was confused as to WHY it was a story. A tragedy, yes because any loss of life is a tragedy with few exceptions (I’m looking at you Zimmerman), but why was this on the NATIONAL news? Then I thought to myself “Oh! It’s a mystery how the young(ish) mother died. So maybe that’s it.”

    Then it comes out that she died of a cocaine overdose. I’m all like -_-…wat

    Tragic for her family and friends, but NOT national freaking news.

    Seriously media. Just stop it. Sorry for her bad luck, but why are you reporting on this ish like it’s some kind of consequence beyond this lady’s circle! So dadgum OBVIOUS!

    In other news: she did have nice skin, doe.

  21. Amy R.
    October 7, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    So true, so perfect: “When our media is full of white people telling stories, they get to color the way they tell stories involving Black people and other people of color. There is no empathy when they report on us because they don’t see themselves in the people they are reporting. They see thugs. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is seeing yourself in them. Media lacks empathy for people of color so we get lambasted. We don’t get our full humanity recognized. We get finger pointing and strong language that blames us for the state we were found in.”

    This white glove (pun intended) treatment gets me so angry. Really glad you wrote this post.

  22. AbbaDabba
    October 7, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    Thank you for writing this. Because when I saw this on the cover of whatever NY newspaper, I was thinking ‘Harpo, who is this white woman and why do people care?’ Then add I read the article it hit me. She’s white. Case closed. Another white princess bites the dust.

  23. syrich
    October 7, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    First of all, this is why I love you Luvvie. Secondly, I live in Houston, Texas a/k/a the South. And none of these details were reported. In fact the only thing I heard was that a doctor, mother of three, died in the doorway of an apartment building. I thought to myself there has to be more to the story. Now on the other hand, in the same news cycle a black women was arrested for shop lifting and I can tell you what she had to eat last week, because the news made sure every rotten detail was reported. This really saddens me, but I am wondering if I can use the two stories for my Rhetoric graduate course to demonstrate bias in the Media.

  24. October 7, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    This is an amazing article. I’m glad someone finally said it. Even with the guy who shot up the church in South Carolina they wrote in a nice way. It made me sick to my stomach. It is just absolutely crazy.

  25. Kiki
    October 7, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    As a white female writer, you have captured all of the things that I was thinking and feeling about this story and its national status. Thank you and keep up the excellent work! This piece of yours needs to circulate far and wide.

  26. Auntie Dee Dee
    October 7, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    I told Luvvie on Twitter, regarding the writer feeling empathy with the “victim”, “She too has wondered how she ended up where she was with her panties in her purse.”

  27. El Loél
    October 7, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    I can’t WAIT till Law & Order: SUV airs this episode. I can already see Ice T bringing up the Luvvie argument against Benson.

  28. LT
    October 7, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    i agree with what you are saying about journalists & media in general not being fair & non-biased in their writings but I think this has more to do with class & status than race. This story is a tabloid papers dream because a rich, white, doctor, wife (of another doctor) & mother from Long Island was found dead after drinking & drug gin’ in NYC and it makes great headlines. Unfortunately if it was a poor, black women this wouldn’t make national news because no one would care & I think that is the main issue. I think this is still a story of a woman lost & I feel sorry for her family, especially her kids because at the end of the day no matter how it was written, it is a sad story & an unfortunate way to die.

  29. October 7, 2015 at 11:05 pm

    So on point. Imagine, too, if she’d been a sex worker?! HAHAHAHAHA. “high-risk lifestyle” et al.

    • Vonetta
      October 12, 2015 at 2:12 pm

      Yeah…then they’d probably refer to her as an “intimate specialist.” SMH

  30. […] the Awesomely Luvvie FB page | The post About the Cocaine Apartment and the Tender Reporting of a White Victim appeared first on Awesomely Luvvie. Duplicating this content in entirety is expressly […]

  31. Nikki
    October 8, 2015 at 7:31 am

    i was finished at “A night of blowing off steam”….really???

    • Jill
      October 8, 2015 at 9:17 am

      Yeah, I had to re-read that part. WTH?

  32. Chaun S
    October 8, 2015 at 10:29 am

    BARS!

  33. October 8, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    I’m also pretty surprised that haven’t dredged up her past and talked about that time she shoplifted cigarettes in high school and the time she went streaking in college and her marijuana possession arrest in order to portray her as a life long thug. Instead they’re focused on her now, her career as a successful dermatologist, wife, mother. Imagine that?

  34. SIPort
    October 8, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Thank you, Luvvie. Continue to tell that truth.

  35. Karen Clark
    October 8, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    You couldn’t be more right. I could not help but instantly compare this article with the Post’s disgusting coverage (August 2015) of the tragic murder of E’Dina Hines, Morgan Freeman’s step-granddaughter, including the scurrilous allusion to “quashed” rumors that Freeman and the victim were lovers. An astounding number of comments on the social media at the time instantly blamed Ms. Hines for her own death because she was obviously “hanging out with hood rats” and demanded to know “what did she expect in that neighborhood?” Note: I recently moved out of Manhattan after looking at numerous apartments in “that neighborhood” and finding them prohibitively expensive, so I don’t know what freaking planet these idiots are on. If it’s on the island of Manhattan, it is now a luxury neighborhood and the poor, working, middle and creative-endeavor classes of residents are being relentlessly squeezed out by the uberwealthy. http://nypost.com/…/man-stabs-ex-girlfriend-to-death…/

  36. Annette
    October 8, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    Luvvie very well written article. Empathy is the exactly what is missing. Yet when it comes to what is reported issues it’s about money, and access. I feel it is more about social standing along with who are the owners of these establishments. Most of these publications owners know each other and support and feed off societies sexism, homophobia, and also racism to make money. We are all being manipulated. Racism=Wealth.

    Yet their culture does dirt also but it is kept quiet at the expense of others looking like animals and not worthy of empathy to make money. The rich, wealthy, and well connected get a pass, because they are “civilized” and entitled, this also goes for some black people. Newspapers spread the stereotypes to make money or else they would be out of business. They prey on the worse aspects of certain races and make it a cash cow business. Yet people feed into it cause it makes their culture or race looks good. It’s a game to create and maintain wealth in this country. It goes much deeper.

    We need to systematically start to own, and be emphatic towards people of color, and the poor, and disenfranchised, and still make a living. Yet while we are fighting on the front lines. Congress and the Senate are doing behind the scenes work to deny wage increases and quality of life issues.

    That determines who gets focused on and how they are portrayed. What we are seeing is a society that is owned and controlled by the wealthy. Be aware, call it out when you see it since there are also black people who buy into what is reported, and feel the same way and will go along to make sure they don’t lose their status.

    Also who knows if this woman was drugged, kidnapped and raped by someone who is extremely privileged. It happens when you move in those circles. Doubt they will look into it more unless someone comes forward. I smell a cover up. You never know. One thing I have learned don’t believe everything you read.

  37. Aharon
    October 8, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    I’m glad to see some people on the comment board firmly maintaining their moral high ground by mocking the dead woman and her family.

  38. Kai lee
    October 9, 2015 at 4:11 am

    wild, low life, druggie who cheated on her husband with a porn flick producer died while getting high with partying with her boyfriend… Is how this story would read if she were black or Latino. This woman had the opportunity to live the American Dream but she chose to abandon her husband and kids for drugs. No sugar coating, no building up…call a thing a thing!

  39. TP
    October 9, 2015 at 1:19 pm
  40. […] place she was found was given the title “cocaine apartment” by the Daily Beast, because you know it’s “high society”. She was referred to as […]

  41. jg
    October 11, 2015 at 11:22 am

    You make it about color, but it’s more about affluence and shock of it. She had everything anyone could have aspired to want/need and that’s why it’s crazy. If she was a black woman who achieved the same the story would have been similar. Someone who works hard to accomplish so much seems to have it all together, yet they obviously don’t.

    White trash, trailer park women overdose all the time. They get labeled as meth heads, crack heads and get harsh treatment. You think that this story would have been written the same if it were one of them? Do you think the media would have been so empathetic? It clearly wouldn’t because they don’t live in the same sphere of influence and affluence.

  42. LF
    October 11, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    And it becomes a warning take of the darker calling of online media now. Clearly everyone needs to stay woke online and off.

    http://nypost.com/2015/10/11/our-double-lives-dark-realities-behind-perfect-online-profiles/

  43. LF
    October 11, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    *warning tale not take

  44. Jenny
    October 11, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    Maybe she caught affluenza.

  45. Angela
    October 13, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    The gentle reporting about the doc still continues. This time to remind readers in Alabama that she won the America’s Junior Miss Pageant in 1995.
    http://www.al.com/news/mobile/index.ssf/2015/10/doctor_who_died_of_overdose_wa.html

  46. Christina
    October 17, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    This is a well-reported valid issue indeed. It also bothers me that Black women openly speak very poorly of one another. It is very common for us to degrade one another publicly. There is rarely a sense of tact based on empathy in black communities but more likely bold ridicule. There’s often this “we can do it, but they can’t” attitude regarding white prejudice but I’m more concerned with the internal opposition than the external.

  47. Kanyin O
    November 11, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    I used to work at a non profit organization that specialized in helping immigrants integrate into society (I live in a small city in Canada). I worked with the kids (teaching english, doing activities, etc) and it was amazing at the types of racial biases that they already were learning. There was an incident in the park where someone’s back pack was stolen. We (the teachers) asked if anyone saw who did it. One of the kids said it was someone with ‘yellow’ hair, to this another boy said… “a white person? But, white people don’t steal!”. All of us teachers’ jaws dropped. We immediately told him that yes, white people steal and that you cannot judge a person by their appearance. It’s so crazy to me how grown adults should know this but yet, in the media we see examples all the time of this kind of elementary bias..smh