Our Uncritical Media: A Tool for Misinformation and Stereotypes

Our Uncritical Media: A Tool for Misinformation and Stereotypes

By RA Monaco

The vile purpose of the narrative fed to the media by Ferguson Police was to convey that the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown had it coming.

The signal received by the Ferguson Police Department was that the media was fully primed to uncritically spread their campaign of disinformation when the comedic satire of John Oliver offered the moment’s most critical analysis of the events unfolding in the wake of Michael Brown’s death.

Before disclosing Officer Darren Wilson’s identity and after a week of demands, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson chose to release an unrelated video that allegedly showed Michael Brown confronting a convenience store clerk and taking a package of cigars.  Generally, people want to believe that the police are protecting them.  The police know this and because they’re an arm of the government and considered an official source by the mainstream press, the Ferguson police strategy to disparage the character of the victim Michael Brown was guaranteed.

Telegraphing innuendo from the police, the mainstream press in large measure served as a tool to demonize the unarmed teenage victim, Michael Brown.   Beyond potentially tainting the jury pool and putting doubt in the minds of the public at large, the vile purpose of the police narrative was to convey that this 18-year-old had it coming.  Within hours a dozen headlines had mixed the alleged robbery with the officer’s identity.

In a second news conference, Chief Jackson walked back the release of that video admitting that the incident was unrelated to the confrontation between Michael Brown and Officer Wilson, who knew nothing about the alleged strong arm robbery of cigars.  On camera, Chief Jackson was forced to admit the lack of connection stating that “we determined that [eye witness who was with Michael Brown] Dorin Johnson had not committed and was not complicit in a crime” which left open the obvious question—why they’d released the video in the first place?

Fox News Seized the Opportunity to Smear Michael Brown

The Ferguson police aren’t innocent bystanders or a disinterested source.  Rather than confront the police about leaked facts—the alleged robbery or pot smoking—Fox News seized upon the opportunity to interview the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy to speculate on air that Brown “may have been acting in a crazy way and may have done things to the police officer that normally he would not have done” because of the pot.  No discussions addressed the many scientific studies that have found that marijuana doesn’t increase violent behavior.

But the irresponsibility of Fox News’ reporting really took wings on Wednesday with a tweet that has since been re-tweeted 998 times claiming:  “Exclusive: Missouri cop was badly beaten before shooting #Michael Brown.”  A crime reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Christine D Byers initially got the ball rolling Monday night with a tweet that read, “Police sources tell me more than a dozen witnesses have corroborated cop’s version of events in shooting #Ferguson”—@ChristineDByers.  Her fabrication and or lack of journalistic ethics or both, is deserving of further scrutiny and should not be left unaddressed.

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Astoundingly, Fox News’ uncritical coverage of the biggest national news story of the summer never paused to at least view the video tape from the scene that showed Officer Darren Wilson standing around unharmed.  Or, verify the claimed beating and injuries with the eyewitness accounts from Tiffany Mitchell, Piaget Crenshaw, Dorin Johnson and several others who’ve since come forward with near identical statements of what happened contradicting this still unidentified source.

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In fact, based on this anonymous source Fox News reporter Hollie McKay reported that Officer Darren Wilson was severely beaten:  “Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Mo., police officer whose fatal shooting of Michael Brown touched off more than a week of demonstrations, suffered severe facial injuries, including an orbital (eye socket) fracture, and was nearly beaten unconscious by Brown moments before firing his gun, a source close to the department’s top brass told FoxNews.com.”

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The corrosive smear of the right-wing media then doubled down on the entire Ferguson community.  According to Media Matters the right-wing media took crime statistics out of context to hype the racial aspect and the supposed prevalence of black-on-black crime.  “A bastion of bad behavior” was the mantra of commentators from Fox News, Wall Street Journal and National Review Online.

It’s an unfortunate American reality that since the election of our president, some media outlets have become adept at racial code.

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Police Kill Kajieme Powell Showing Conscious Disregard For Human Life

Shockingly, in the midst of ongoing tensions surrounding Michael Brown’s death,  St. Louis police killed Kajieme Powell only blocks away firing six shot into his body after he had went down.  What is most telling about video of this incident is that police arrived with guns drawn thereby abandoning any possible outcome other than execution.

On camera, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson spun a different story claiming that Kajieme Powell charged at the officers with a knife raised over his head in a threatening manner.  Review of the video does not corroborate Chief Dotson’s version of the facts—compounding distrust.  In fact, Powell does not charge police with a knife over his head--no knife is visible—and he is considerably farther from the officers than claimed by Chief Dotson.

What the video does show is the St. Louis  Police's callous disregard for human life as well as for the safety of those in the immediate area.  Officers abandon possible alternatives at the outset—Powell was distraught over the passing of his mother earlier that day and posed no immediate threat to anyone at the time of his death.

The Relationship between the People and Ferguson Police

The relationship between the people of Ferguson and their police department is best captured in Getty photographer Scott Olsen’s photo of an overly aggressive group of police in military gear with weapons raised facing off an unarmed man whose hands were raised.  Once again, John Oliver’s satire put a point on these tensions highlighting graffiti on the side of a postal box that read, “fuck the police.”

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Police verbal antagonism of protestors saying things like, “bring it, you fucking animals” highlights the unacceptable culture of disrespect between law enforcement and protestors—a fact that falls squarely on the shoulders of their Police Chief and Mayor James Knowles.

The top down inability to see people of color as individuals shows a deeply rooted racist culture in the Ferguson Police Department that still exists despite termination of Lt. Patrick Hayes who allegedly encouraged targeting the Black community with sayings like “let’s have a black day” and “let’s make the jail cells more colorful.”  In reality, this seems to be a matter of just getting caught.  The obvious issue is how does a police officer rise to the rank of Lieutenant unless this culture is sanctioned from the top down?

During the protests the culture of police antagonism finally caught up with St. Ann Police Lt. Ray Albers who was suspended indefinitely after he pointed a semi-automatic assault rifle and threatened Ferguson protesters. But pointing a rifle at unarmed people was far too common.  Most troubling was that officers had weapons raised against unarmed protestors with almost no comment from the talking heads at major media outlets.

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What the public might have seen following the available Livestreams—there were several depending on the particular time and day—via social media was the repeated provocations by police of peaceful protestors exercising their First Amendment rights. Night after night we heard about Molotov cocktails being thrown but saw none.  Ferguson riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at peaceful protestors’ even in residential neighborhoods—people were not safe in their homes.

The militarization of police should surprise no one who paid attention to the 2012 NATO protests in Chicago where an army of militarized police far outnumbered protestors.

In cities around the country, even small one’s like Huntington Beach CA who rolls out their over-the-top military equipment weekly at their Tuesday night Street fair—presumably to chill any disagreement with authoritarian command and to anesthetize the public so people get used to seeing this stuff.  Certainly, it’s not a stretch to conclude that police militarization has come to a town near each of us.

Vandalism and Looting Garnered National Attention

Importantly, the violence that has occurred in the days that followed the police killing of Michael Brown is largely in reaction to the provocations of police themselves when frustrations boiled over.

While few protestors would condone lawless looting and vandalism in Ferguson, an important purpose was served.  Without the initial vandalism and looting it’s doubtful that the brazen police killing of an unarmed teenager would have garnered much attention from the national media—much less the Attorney General of the United States Eric Holder.

Moreover, the initial vandalism and looting opened a door to a national discussion about the dual standards of treatment and justice for people of color that have yet to change.  It also created an opportunity to revisit the increased militarization of America’s local police departments and the dynamic of our own government expanding markets for a military industrial machine that siphons much needed money away from pressing needs of people and our own infrastructure.

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The challenge for Americans trying to make sense of the news coverage focusing on Ferguson is the confused narratives of politically driven media outlets claiming fairness and balance.  Media broadcast’s that speak in code fearing allegations of race baiting while giving overwhelming deference to the agencies of authority that have proven unwilling to listen are projecting an attitude that protection of property is paramount to respect for human life.

Citizen Journalist Are Important to the Media Landscape

As America now knows, the brazen and, at times, clumsy Ferguson police riot wasn’t just against protestors, it was also directed at the journalist’s whose boots were on the ground.   Not talking heads trying to entertain viewers and sell cornflakes, but real journalists who are washing the tear gas from their eyes and the stench from their clothes.

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Citizen journalists, too, have become an essential part of our media landscape.  Without reservation, they must be considered a critical mechanism in the preservation of our self determination—our freedom.

It is unrealistic to follow mainstream broadcast news to gain a genuine understanding of the information we need to engage in our own self governance.  In these times, we must do more—its time consuming and sometimes difficult.  There is no simple formula for sorting through the digital universe of social media and online journalism but doing so has never been more important.

Navigating across mainstream media platforms, the spectrum of digital publications and the social media landscape has now become necessary, if not essential, to our understanding of what is really happening in our communities.

Underneath The Shameful Blare of Talking Heads

In fairness, a good number of journalists from publications like Salon, Daily Kos, Slate, Democracy Now, Truth-Out, Media Matters, Truthdig and even HuffPost to name a few, followed the lead of John Oliver’s satire looking beyond the smears of Michael Brown and the community of Ferguson.

Citizen and trained journalists alike worked to give the public an understanding about the frustrations of this community.  There was and is some excellent journalism—professional and citizen—coming out of Ferguson underneath the shameful blare of talking heads.  The caveat is that Ferguson, MO is Everytown USA and not much is as it seems—think critically.

Flicker of beauty

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  • What concerns me about your post is that you seem to criticize only one "side" of the of the media coverage. Even though I'm frustrated by the emphasize on "picking the scab" of a category (i.e. race) that doesn't even exist in biology and should be scrapped in favor of unifying us as one species, I'm also extremely disappointed that we have national leaders, including our President, who fan the flames of discord and jump to conclusions as to where the villains and victims are located. Please consider that there are always multiple perspectives, and Michael Brown was no innocent. Nor are most of the people (regardless of skin color) in lockups and penitentaries (which I visit for my work) innocent. Our police have to contend with circumstances nearly all of us may judge, but could never tolerate without the risk of losing control.

  • Interesting that is what you took from a piece that focused on broadcast media’s failing to critically confront the police in their reporting.
    I thought I did in fact cover more than one perspective which were the other media companies—I even mentioning a few names that I thought helped in reporting what was actually happening on the ground—including citizens.
    My concern was that people would conclude, as you did, that Michael Brown somehow deserved two bullets in the head because he, in your words “was no innocent”—so much for your concerns about others jumping to conclusions. Should the police propaganda be enabled by companies unwilling to confront their agenda? I can only assume that you would say, yes.
    I would have never thought of the possibility of more than two perspectives—media coverage that informed us about news we needed to engage in self governance and media broadcasts that sensationalize the event to embraced unrelated character statements instead of facts.
    I don’t really understand your point because it just doesn’t seem to relate to the disrespectful, clownish and vile media coverage of killing an unarmed teenager. Is it that you support character assassination of the victim before release of facts from the police and name of the killing officer? If so, then you got it.
    Thanks for reading.

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