We Baby Boomers grew up with the meme that Kitty Genovese died on March 13, 1964 in Queens because none of the 38 bystanders called the police. Now, reports Nicholas Lehmann in The New Yorker, two recent books dispute all that. Here you can read Lehmann's chronicle how the meme was put in play by The New York Times editor A. M. Rosenthal and how it was eventually dismantled.
The two books are "Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America" and "Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and Its Private Consequences." The facts are quite different from what was framed as a horrific example of human indifference. People did reach out to help in person. And there were calls to the police.
The real horror might be the readiness of the educated to embrace a meme and then run with the supposed lesson its teaches. Vividly I recall imparting that lesson to a group of freshmen at the University of Michigan in Fall 1968. I was a teaching fellow, an assignment for all of us in the doctoral program. One of the essays in the "Norton Reader" was a rant against the bystander indifference which allegedly took place as Genovese was repeatedly stabbed.
The interesting thing is that every student bought in. The course was geared to develop the critical thinking which was needed for exposition. One would have thought that a few would have deviated and defended not getting involved. Perhaps they did within the privacy of their own thinking. The fault might have been mine for not doing what it took to empower students to dig around every aspect of what is presented as a reality.
The lesson here might be don't believe everything we read in the media, especially what is written with eloquence, conviction and authority.