|Ferguson, Violence, and the Evolution of the Media Perspective
||[Aug. 21st, 2014|11:47 pm]
Kelly J. Cooper
I posted this to Facebook around 3am Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.
I didn't post it here because I wanted to make sure I didn't write anything atrocious before putting it into the public sphere.
On Saturday, 9 August 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri.
About a day later, I started hearing rumblings about it in the news and online. I started paying attention on Wednesday, 8/13 after a couple of journalists were detained by police. I ONLY heard about it online. I saw nothing about it on mainstream news.
On Saturday, after simultaneously releasing both the name of the officer who shot Brown AND a security video from the convenience store Brown and his friend left just moments before the shooting (which apparently showed Brown stealing some cigars; later it was determined that the convenience store provided the video because they were served with a subpoena or warrant for it; they hadn't reported it and it's possible that Brown paid for the things) tensions ratcheted up and the Governor of Missouri declared a curfew.
I got worried about the people of Ferguson & I started checking the various 24-hour news channels for information. I was looking at mainstream media ON PURPOSE, because I wanted to see how they were covering the issue. It's hard to trust the media, knowing about spin and corporate interference, and I wanted to see how what they said compared to what people who were IN Ferguson were saying.
Initially, I watched CNN. But between their obvious bias and the fact that my cable company was giving me a chewed up & spit out feed, after a couple of days I settled on MSNBC (which was not in the same channel cluster and so I'd forgotten about them) and only occasionally dipped back into CNN.
While watching cable news, I was also reading the #Ferguson Twitter feed, where I'd been paying particular attention to mainstream reporters Tweeting from the scene (Tim Pool, @timcast; Matt Pearce, @mattdpearce; Christopher Hayes, @chrislhayes) and to reporters of color (Elon James White, @elonjames; @Nettaaaaaaaa; @Awkward_Duck; Antonio French, @AntonioFrench).
Since Saturday, watching at least a couple of hours of live coverage each night, I've noticed something. (I chose CNN & MSNBC because they were the only ones that went live in Ferguson... I checked regularly, but Al Jazeera, FOX, & HLN did not go live during the late night events... in fact, I couldn't find live coverage of the night-time events on any other channels.)
When I first started watching, CNN & MSNBC were both reporting what the police were saying as fact, only reporting alternative narratives after multiple examples of the authorities lies were shoved in their faces.
They also completely failed to mention that the media had been separated into a Press Area that was actually cordoned off with police tape (I could see the tape in pictures and videos on Twitter). Many things happened that CNN & MSNBC reporters on the scene COULD NOT SEE due to the fact that they were in this area. And yet, they did not mention that the cordon existed. Both channels obliquely referred to these restrictions with comments about "we can't see from here" equivocating.
Meanwhile, reporters of color on the ground reported (through social media - mainly Twitter, using the #Ferguson and #DONTSHOOT tags) being bullied, tear-gassed, and threatened by the authorities. A couple of them were running LIVE FEEDS so you too could hear these things and see these things as they happened. Of course, many of them were outside the cordon, among the protestors, and even though they wore their press credentials prominently, they were being treated on the same level as the protestors, by which I mean like criminals.
At one point, CNN was reporting pretty defensively, clearly complaining about social media reports, stating that things needed to be "investigated" before they could be reported as truth (specifically with regard to the reports on the first night of the curfew that the police were using smoke bombs only, NOT tear gas...) It wasn't until CNN reporters were shown used canisters of tear gas and had it confirmed by various law enforcement officers that both were used that they reported on the tear gas. It's been gradual, but their stance has shifted more toward reporting what's happening as it's happening and trusting reporters who say things like, "Yeah, I got tear-gassed in Egypt - I recognize the smell."
Over the weekend (8/16 & 8/17), CNN was running 2 photos of Michael Brown (remember Michael Brown? This song is about Michael Brown) with him looking very serious. To the average white person, this expression is often interpreted as thuggish. Meanwhile, MSNBC was running a series of photos, some serious, some funny, some sweet, some triumphant.
But as time went on, as WHITE reporters, videographers, and photographers got arrested, as the WHITE reporters were bullied and verbally abused, the commentary on CNN & MSNBC shifted to a more antagonistic (toward the authorities) stance. MSNBC more than CNN, but both began criticizing the authorities instead of reporting their statements as fact.
Last night [Monday, 8/18] they both started complaining about the cordon. Tonight [Tuesday night, 8/19], complaints were even more strident as authorities tried to push the press "back" further away from the area where things were actually happening, for reasons of safety and security. And they're pissed! They're finally pissed off.
Now I'm wondering if that will make any difference whatsoever.
[Note that since I wrote this, President Obama dispatched US Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson and the curfew's been lifted. A grand jury is either in the process of being convened or has been convened (which could be problematic as they are very secretive things by nature). Congress is talking about the militarization of police in a much more concerned fashion. Even the Pentagon is supposedly rethinking their policy of passing along equipment and weaponry.]