By ELAINE MAGLIARO
Bias in the Mainstream News Media?
On August 14th—five days after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri—Nick Wing published an article on Huffington Post titled When The Media Treats White Suspects And Killers Better Than Black Victims. Wing said that after news of the unarmed teenager’s death broke, “media-watchers carefully followed the narratives that news outlets began crafting about the teenager and the incident that claimed his life.”
Wary of the controversy surrounding the media’s depiction of Trayvon Martin…people on Twitter wondered, “If they gunned me down, which picture would they use?” Using the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, users posted side-by-side photos, demonstrating the power that news outlets wield in portraying victims based on images they select.
Wing said that on the previous Monday “Twitter user LordSWVP tweeted out a photo driving home another point: Media treatment of black victims is often harsher than it is of whites suspected of crimes, including murder.”
Here is one of the examples that Wing provided:
Headline of story about a white crime suspect: Theater Shooting Suspect Was Brilliant Student
Headline of story about Michael Brown: Police: Michael Brown Struggled with Officer before Shooting
Wing noted that such treatment of black crime victims and white crime suspects may not be “standard media protocol”—but added that it “happens frequently, deliberately or not.” He said that media news reports “often headline claims from police or other officials that appear unsympathetic or dismissive of black victims.” He added that sometimes news headlines even appear to imply that black victims “are to blame for their own deaths, engaging in what critics sometimes allege is a form of character assassination.”
When contrasted with media portrayal of white suspects and accused murderers, the differences are more striking. News outlets often choose to run headlines that exhibit an air of disbelief at an alleged white killer’s supposed actions. Sometimes, they appear to go out of their way to boost the suspect’s character, carrying quotes from relatives or acquaintances that often paint even alleged murderers in a positive light.
Wing provided additional examples:
Ala. suspect brilliant, but social misfit
That’s how the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal chose to present the story of Amy Bishop, a former college professor who eventually pleaded guilty to killing three colleagues and wounding three others at a faculty meeting in 2010.
Montgomery’s latest homicide victim had history of narcotics abuse, tangles with the law
And that’s the headline AL.com ran about the shooting death of a 25-year-old black man in Alabama earlier this year.
Son in Staten Island murders was brilliant, athletic–but his demons were the death of his parents
This is how the Staten Island Advance covered the case of Eric Bellucci, a mentally ill New York man who allegedly killed his parents.
Trayvon martin was suspended three times from school
Meanwhile, NBC News ran this headline during ongoing coverage of the Trayvon Martin killing.
(Click here to read more examples of how the media often treats white crime suspects differently from black crime victims.)
Martin Bashir Compares the Media’s Portrayal of Trayvon Martin to a Well Known American
Anatomy of a Fox News Smear
Although Wing didn’t accuse the news media of having a “standard protocol” for deliberately depicting white crime suspects in a better light than black crime victims, there are some members of the media who appear to intentionally call into question the character of black crime victims or who attempt to portray them as being responsible for their own deaths.
On August 26th, John Avignone posted an article at Salon titled Anatomy of a Fox News smear: Ann Coulter, Matt Drudge and the “dumbest person on the Internet.” In his article, Avignone explained how Fox News ran with a “totally bogus” story about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, on the day that police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown. Avignone said six days after the shooting, Thomas Jackson, the police chief of Ferguson, “bowed to pressure from the community and media and identified Wilson as the cop who shot Brown.” He noted, too, that Jackson also released two other bits of information at the same time. The police chief informed the public that officer Wilson “had been taken to a hospital after the shooting with swelling to his face.” He also released a surveillance video from a store that purportedly “showed Brown reaching over a counter and grabbing a handful of cigars, then pushing a store clerk on his way out.”
Avignone said that this release of information by police “was a turning point in the story…” He said that “Ferguson police seemingly wanted to transform Michael Brown from an innocent victim to a criminal.” He added that it was not long “before Fox News was pushing a new narrative: Michael Brown wasn’t just the latest in a depressingly long line of unarmed young black men to be gunned down by a white cop. He was a thug, they suggested, a criminal who deserved what he got, because he posed a deadly threat to Officer Wilson.”
This was proven, Fox News reported with an unnamed source, because “the officer had sustained a fractured eye socket in the incident.” Ann Coulter even suggested, incorrectly, that we’d seen X-rays of the fracture. Fox went on to claim “solid proof” of a battle between Wilson and Brown for the officer’s handgun.
So…where did the story about Darren Wilson having sustained an orbital eye fracture come from?
Avignone explained how it happened:
Perhaps the first shot in the right-wing news campaign to smear Michael Brown came in the form of a call to a conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch on Aug. 15. A caller who claimed to be a friend of Wilson’s — who would only identify herself as Josie — told Loesch that Brown had “bum rushed” officer Wilson, punched him in the face and tried to go for Wilson’s gun. Brown and his friend then walked away. Wilson pulled his gun and ordered Brown to stop. Brown turned around, taunted Wilson, then again “bum rushed” him. Wilson fired six shots, the last shot to Brown’s forehead. “Josie” claimed that she had gotten this information from a Facebook discussion. She did not claim that Wilson had been seriously injured in the encounter.
Avignone said that after a call was made to Loesch a lot of “discussion and rampant speculation followed in the right-wing blogosphere, even though the only source was an anonymous caller to a radio show and a supposed Facebook discussion.” Then, Jim Hoft announced on his site Gateway Pundit on August 19th that Darren Wilson had suffered a severe eye injury in his post titled BREAKING REPORT: Officer Darren Wilson Suffered “Orbital Blowout Fracture to Eye Socket” During Mike Brown Attack.
Charles Johnson (little green footballs) said Hoft claimed that he got the story about the orbital eye fracture from anonymous sources.
It’s possible that someone did leak this information to Hoft, but I’ll remind my readers that Jim Hoft is probably the single most dishonest right wing blogger on the Internet as well as the dumbest, with a very long history of distorting facts and completely making stuff up to push his far right, often overtly racist agenda.
Johnson reported that “no ambulance was called for Wilson, and no first aid was administered by other officers…” He said that seemed odd if Wilson “had indeed suffered this type of serious injury — or any injury at all.” Johnson continued to provide evidence that Hoft may have been attempting “to pull a fast one…” Johnson said that Hoft had posted a CT scan of a blowout fracture. Johnson compared to it to an image of a scan that had been “posted at the AAPOS site, showing a CT scan of a blowout fracture…” He noticed that in the version that Jim Hoft posted on the Internet the text at bottom right reading “UNIV OF IOWA” had been “crudely erased.”
Click here to view the CT scans.
Was Hoft trying to mislead his readers into thinking this was the actual X-ray (or CT scan) of Darren Wilson? His text does not make it clear it wasn’t Wilson’s CT scan — and the words “UNIV OF IOWA” have been blacked out, quite deliberately.
If Hoft’s intent was to mislead, it worked. All over Twitter and right wing blogs, the wingnuts are raving about “Darren Wilson’s X-ray” that shows a fractured eye socket — but this is just a generic example image of an unknown person’s CT scan.
In addition, Avignone said that Hoft had cited “a tweet from Christine Byers, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Byers wrote: “Police sources tell me more than a dozen witnesses have corroborated cop’s version of events in shooting.” The Post-Dispatch, however, “published a story making clear that they never published Byers’ information, that she was not working on this story, and that she had been on leave since March. Following that Post-Dispatch story, Byers tweeted the following: “On FMLA from paper. Earlier tweets did not meet standards for publication.”
Avignone said that despite the “problems” with Hoft’s story about Wilson’s major injury, it seemed to be “too juicy for the right-wing blogosphere to ignore.” He said that the right-wing blogosphere “finally” had a narrative that portrayed Michael Brown “as a violent thug and Wilson as a man who was badly beaten and justified in fearing for his life.” Hoft’s story spread like a virulent disease. It was quickly picked up and spread at Mark Dice’s Before It’s News, Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller. Avignone said that Hoft’s story was soon “picked up by pretty much all of the right-wing noise machine, including Matt Drudge, Breitbart, Right Wing News, the Washington Times and the New York Post.”
Once Hoft’s story “had broken into the wild and had been reported by numerous sources,” Avignone said that “Fox News decided it had enough cover to report” on the “bogus story.” He said that Fox ran “the story every half-hour with a flashing ‘ALERT ALERT’ image at the bottom of the screen and cited , yep, Jim Hoft’s report.” He added that Fox eventually found and cited its own “anonymous’ and “well-placed” source that was supposedly “close to the [Ferguson police] department’s top brass” who claimed that there was “solid proof” that “He [Wilson] was beaten very severely.”
Soon after the claim was made that Wilson had suffered an orbital eye fracture, Don Lemon of CNN News refuted the Fox News story. Lemon reported that Wilson “was treated at the hospital for swelling around his face and eyes.”
According to The Christian Post, CNN producer Julian Cummings took to Twitter on August 21st to say that “a report claiming Wilson’s eye socket was broken during his confrontation with Brown was false.”
Cummings wrote, “Reports that Ofc Darren Wilson had a bruised or fractured eye socket are false. #ferguson A source close to the investigation tells CNN.” Cummings also wrote, “Wilson was taken to the hospital after the shooting. He had xrays which came back negative. He was treated for a swollen face. #ferguson.”
What had started out as a sketchy story on a sketchy blog that was full of glaring holes had now become rock-solid news reported by the leader of the right-wing news machine. Never mind that Fox was also citing an anonymous source; the story was true because they said it was true. Soon the story moved from right-wing outlets to respectable mainstream news sources. The Washington Post also found an anonymous source and reported:
“The officer who fatally shot an unarmed Ferguson youth suffered a fracture to his eye bone in a scuffle with Michael Brown, according to a family friend.
The hospital X-rays of the injury have been submitted to the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, and will be shared with a grand jury now weighing evidence to determine if Officer Darren Wilson should be charged in the shooting.”
After publishing that story, Avignone said that the Washington Post “walked it back and contradicted its own story.” He noted the the Post did so “without retracting or updating the original report.”
Later, after CNN’s Don Lemon “unequivocally” debunked Hoft’s story, Avignone said that “the anonymous reports began to unravel…” When it was evident that the reports about Wilson’s having sustained an orbital eye fracture were proved to be inaccurate, Avignone said that the “Washington Post threw up its hands and published a “here’s what everybody says, you sort it out” article that cast even more doubt on its earlier reporting…”
And so it goes. That’s how we get some of our important news stories these days. Ain’t it great?
Bill O’Reilly’s Ferguson disgrace: Host spews sick lecture to Michael Brown’s family
The Fox host argued the unarmed teenager’s supporters should trust the authorities. Then Ben Carson went off script (Salon)
Viral Right-Wing Smear Of Michael Brown Debunked (ThinkProgress)