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FAIR: US media were already running with police fantasy when video exploded it

Adam Johnson, at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), considers the way officer-involved violence is reported by American media.


The New York Times (4/7/15) released a video of a black South Carolina man Walter Scott being shot, casually and without apparent mercy, eight times in the back by white police officer Michael T. Slager. The media’s outrage after the video’s publication was righteous and swift. The state of South Carolina followed suit, filing murder charges against Slager. Indeed, the video offers no ambiguity whatsoever:

Before this shocking video surfaced, however, most of the local press coverage, per usual, followed the police’s official narrative and amplified a storyline that, in retrospect, was entirely made up.

The Scott shooting, as Think Progress’s Judd Ledgum pointed out, provides unique insight into the way the police use inherent asymmetry of information to assert their narrative:

Between the time when he shot and killed Scott early Saturday morning and when charges were filed, Slager — using the both the police department and his attorney — was able to provide his “version” of the events.

He appeared well on his way to avoiding charges and pinning the blame on Scott.

Then a video, shot by an anonymous bystander, revealed exactly what happened.

In all police killings, one side–the victim–is, by definition, dead. So the “both sides” type of reporting we’re so often used to almost invariably becomes a one-sided airing of accounts, facts and selective details from the police side that the corporate media repeats without question.question. Indeed, Charleston’s local ABC affiliate would begin their report with, what turned out to be, an outright lie:

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) — A man involved in a traffic stop that turned into a physical altercation with a North Charleston police officer died Saturday after being shot by the officer.

But the New York Times video shows there was no “physical altercation.” There was someone being shot in the back eight times while trying to run away. The report would go on to mix up police assertion with fact again, seemingly inventing witnesses who weren’t there:

Police and witnesses say Scott tried to run from Slager before turning to fight for the officer’s taser. It was during that scuffle that the officer fired his service weapon, fatally wounding Scott.

But what witnesses? I have asked the reporter, Greg Woods, to name the witnesses he documented; as of press time, he has not responded. Woods did not, in any of his reports, actually quote any witnesses saying they saw a “fight.” What appears to have happened is that Woods was told by police there were witnesses and he reported it, uncritically.

Read the full post at FAIR

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