Tag Archives: Ferguson

Study finds unusual coverage patterns found in Ferguson stories

The shooting death last year of Michael Brown and the subsequent events that followed his death in the Ferguson unrest – protests, vigils, riots, outrage – left the public shocked, longing for answers from both sides of the debate that ensued. Brown’s death sparked renewed national attention to police brutality and the relationship between law enforcement and minorities in the United States. Narratives such as “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “Black lives matter” became prominent in social media conversations, and led to continuous collective action online and offline. But the voices actually heard in the mainstream media coverage of subsequent events may surprise readers, as will their actual contributions to press content.

This study, part of the University of Texas at Austin’s program to engage undergraduates in research, analyzed sourcing and framing practices in the Ferguson coverage of local and national newspapers during the first cycle of protests (Aug. 8 through Sept. 8). The authors examined all articles from the the New York Times, USA TODAY, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, looking for sources as well as patterns of phrases and themes.

This study found journalists emphasized specific context-less episodes, treated social movements critically and used non-official sources who did not share the protestors’ agenda.

Serving as the researchers’ guide were previous studies on the “protest paradigm,” a set of coverage patterns in stories of unrest and crisis that routinely devalue and delegitimize social movements by drawing more attention to the negativity of rioting and confrontation, and giving less attention to the demands and grievances of protestors.  This model stems from standard journalist news values and routines, more specifically their reliance on official sources. Primarily using official sources helps journalists maintain the appearance of objectivity and reduce the need for added, more verified reporting. As a result, information crucial for evaluating a social problem, such as views from those actively advocating its solution, may go unreported. Additionally, a lack of discrepancy and debate about official reports and government information, particularly among official sources, makes the press less able to counter official views.

This study shows that the five newspapers allowed non-official sources – mostly non-elected individuals/spokespersons and local Ferguson residents – to be heard, although journalists often included official sources as well. Overall, sources neither challenged the protest model nor provided context to counter the episodic, or daily, nature of the coverage. In fact, non-official sources were more likely to contribute to or comment about singular events and happenings rather than contributing to thematic or issue-oriented articles that went deeper into the overall implications of Brown’s death and its relation to contributing factors, such as race, poverty or the history of police brutality.

More than one-third of the coverage emphasized rioting and unrest, while a similar proportion of articles emphasized police-protestor confrontation, police arrests and portrayed protestors as combatants. Eight percent of coverage specifically referenced, positively, grievances and demands of advocates from a non-official perspective. This limited presentation of advocates’ demands was accompanied consistently by additional mention of rioting or confrontation. For example, one article from the Washington Post described the double bind caused by police ticketing and poverty in the Ferguson community with a citizen’s first-hand account: “It begins with getting a traffic ticket. You get pulled over and get this huge ticket. In some parts of the city, tickets actually double. Get a couple of those and soon most people can’t afford their bills.” Unfortunately, this hidden thematic gem appeared in an article highlighting both the “rage” and unrest of protestors.

Themes emphasizing someone’s social deviance prevailed more in Post-Dispatch content than in national outlets. Many such instances likely can be explained by journalistic norms. Local journalists logically work with and are closer to local official sources on a daily basis. In this instance, truly critical coverage may have higher stakes socially and professionally. Local reporters make their living through these sources more so than do non-local writers.

While journalists may allow more non-official sources during event-driven news, questions remain about how journalists use these sources to criticize the official point of view. Findings of this study suggest that although journalists reach out to non-official sources to aid their reporting, journalists’ adherence to longstanding, officially sanctioned problematic models remains: Coverage continues to minimalize the positions of reformist groups and its case-by-case, singular presentation persists. This helps explain why the Department of Justice’s damning report of Ferguson police becomes news – even when, in fact, it’s the norm. Why and how did journalists fail to recognize the pattern of police misbehavior?

Such evidence raises more questions than answers: Could this situation arise because highly positioned, accessible official sources help direct and dictate what non-official sources reporters use? Do other journalistic practices create sourcing practices? Did coverage change after the Justice report, once official sources granted their seal of approval of the protestors’ grievances? More research clearly would be helpful. For St. Louis reporters, the important question may be: What can you do to be less of a slave to your rigid coverage routines? Or, even when giving voice to the voiceless, why does your content decidedly favor those in power? Is objectivity all it’s cracked up to be?

Authors’ note: Danielle Kilgo and Rachel Mourao are journalism doctoral students at the University of Texas-Austin, and Dr. George Sylvie is an Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The paper, “Michael Brown as a News Icon: Event-driven news and its impact on protest paradigm” was presented at the 2015 AEJMC conference in San Francisco.

Perceived lack of credibility didn’t stop African-Americans from following Ferguson news

Newsrooms in this country have known for nearly half a century that coverage of African-American communities needs fixing. In 1968, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission, argued that newsrooms should provide more inclusive reporting on racial issues in response to a summer of nationwide inner-city social disorder the summer before. Last year, the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson provided ample opportunity to see whether the news media had improved its newsgathering sensitivity. According to many observers, it came up short.

In a dozen in-depth interviews I conducted for research at the University of Texas-Austin, African-American respondents said that Ferguson news coverage in the wake of the shooting once again did nothing to improve credibility or build better relationships with diverse communities.

“In society, trust is not given at the drop of a hat,” a 34-year-old a real estate developer in Chicago told the paper’s author. “So how could media assume a single media performance during a single news event is strong enough to significantly affect trust? The Michael Brown story didn’t affect the way I felt, feel, or will feel about the media.”

This response should serve as a crucial and, to be sure, urgent warning to journalists. Researchers have shown that trust in the media can lead to more time spent following the news. And the more someone follows the news, the more likely one will be engaged in the democratic process. So if African Americans don’t trust the news, they might be further disenfranchised from the democratic process, the consequences of which impact the health of a plural social experience.

During this research, respondents suggested ways for the news media to improve credibility.

1. Stick to the truth. Most interviewees suggested that the news media could build better trust by avoiding reports of unconfirmed rumors and innuendo.

2. Further diversify newsrooms. The news media should hire more African-American journalists, especially to cover predominantly African-American communities.

3. Offer diversity training. A 39-year-old Ferguson racial justice worker explained that covering different social groups is not intuitive. Reporters need to be educated on the nuances found in varying communities. This, she said, will teach reporters to “ask the questions in an empathetic and culturally sensitive way.”

4. Offer more positive stories. The news media too often reside in places of tragedy and disruption. Those stories must be covered to an extent, but room should be made for a richer tapestry of story themes. “The little moments, however sad, inspiring, basic, triumphant, regretful or nostalgic, hit home to humans,” a Chicago accountant said. “Of New York, and of the U.S., and of the world. It’s the basic thing that connects us all, and I think highlighting that could help bridge some gaps.”

5. Don’t obsess over race. One of the more unexpected responses from interviewees was the suggestion that race can also be a distraction to responsible news coverage. A St. Louis graduate student said the news media fumbled a bigger story in Ferguson, one of abusive and unreasonable force by police officers. “The major issue should have been that an officer gunned down an unarmed man in the streets. Race aside, this should be the larger issue. Was it just, and how can we prevent it from happening? Do we need to reevaluate our system of law enforcement?”

The study’s participants also gave suggestions on how the news media could improve relationships between press and community.

1. Focus on people—not stories. During major news events, reporters can tend to sacrifice basic moments of humanity in service to scoops. A Ferguson resident said, “Acknowledge and speak to the people in the community. In African-American communities, we say ‘hi’ to each other, we make eye contact and acknowledge one another. There were several times when I saw the media ignore and look away from the people looking at them. Sometimes they looked terrified and afraid.”

2. Advocate for communities. While many news observers have said that advocacy is not the typical role of mainstream news media outlets, some respondents said it should be. “You want to improve this broken relationship?” a Texas pharmacy representative asked. “Then defend more, exploit less. Allow people to see there is more to African-American life than [crime, drugs, and gangs]. Quit showing us in a negative light.”

3. Remember the Youth. The news media has a responsibility to explain how news events might affect the youth as well as adults. How, for instance, would the Ferguson story change classroom environments? How were young people responding to or participating in the social demonstrations?

4. It’s the Little Things. At least one respondent suggested that news reporters could participate in additional productive ways. “Bring water, or food, or something to show that you are part of the community and that you care,” one study participant said.

Respondents in this study said they wanted more out of the news. Of course, whether the news media take their advice remains to be seen. But even though the news media’s coverage didn’t help build credibility during the Michael Brown coverage, the good news is that African-American respondents still followed the news and will continue to do so going forward. They felt a sense of civic and social responsibility, they said. It stands to reason, then, that any efforts to improve media trust and build better relationships in their communities can—and must—go a long way in reporting people of color in more responsible and productive ways.

In fact, while interviewees said that the news media in Ferguson might not have always been outwardly empathetic to the African-American community’s plight, at least one Ferguson respondent was empathetic about the work those reporters were doing. “They’re kind of brave and courageous for being in some of these stories that they go in,” one interviewee said. “And me myself? I wouldn’t do it.”

Author’s note: Shane M. Graber, a doctoral student of journalism at the University of Texas-Austin, authored the research from which this article is taken. The paper, “Defend More, Exploit Less: African Americans on Media Trust and News Use After Ferguson,” was presented at the 2015 AEJMC conference in San Francisco.


A new niche for traditional journalism in the digital age

In the aftermath of the killing of a black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last August, St. Louis Public Radio launched an ongoing series of conversations about race called We Live Here. The first full-length program traversed Lindbergh Boulevard, a busy thoroughfare arching through a diversity of the 90 municipalities that make up St. Louis County.

Two comments stood out in the broadcast, which aired in early March. The first was by a prominent businessman in Melville, a predominantly white suburb in the southern reaches of the county.

“It sickens me,” James Sinclair told the program, ‘to see St. Louis on the national news the way we have been portrayed. There are issues that need to be addressed. But the need to be addressed, they don’t need to be shouted at. And they certainly don’t need to take it out on the police.”

The second was by Chris Kerr, who lives on an exclusive six-acre family homestead in tony Frontenac. “I don’t follow these types of cases,” Kerr said. “Whatever it is, the national case, the new case, the next one that comes up.  Whatever agenda that somebody’s running that wants to do it. I don’t care. It’s not relevant to my life. So I just – I hear it on the news, but I stay out of it.”

I don’t know these men, nor do I know how their interviews were edited, so I’ll tread lightly. The program aired four days before the United States Department of Justice released its findings, based on forensics and witness testimony, clearing Officer Darren Wilson of culpability in the death of Michael Brown, but also chronicling deliberate racial profiling by the Ferguson police department against young black males.

The report supported the concern shared by people such as Sinclair and Kerr about a rush to judgment. But I am interested in what these two men had to say for a different reason. Their antipathy toward the coverage and motives of the national press in Ferguson raises an important question for a city struggling to confront its historical legacy of structural and systemic racism. When the national story fades into a local story, how and by what means does the conversation advance within this deeply divided American metropolis? Put differently, in our evolving media landscape, where do we build the common narratives that enable society to move forward?

My question arises from what was for me a formative insight when I covered sub-Saharan Africa for the Boston Globe. During the eight years I lived in Boston prior to moving overseas, I had almost no connection to its black communities. But within my first year of reporting from Africa, something curious happened. Boston’s black leaders reached out to me. Some prominent ministers even traveled to South Africa to meet with me, and my newspaper eventually flew me back to Boston at one point to participate in conversations with key black community leaders and renowned academics.

I did not get it. I was a white reporter writing about Africa, not Roxbury or Dorchester. What did my stories have to do them? The answer from one prominent cleric gave me a critical insight into the role metropolitan daily newspapers once held in the life of a city: “When you put brown issues on Page 1 of our newspaper, that legitimizes us.”

The minister’s comment gave me a profound new sense of purpose as a journalist. Before the digital age, newspapers were where the diverse communities of a single large urban center met, argued, strived and perhaps learned to understand each other. Every day, papers reached into every community, office, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority train and barber shop across the greater Boston area and much of New England. A story affecting any one demographic group reached every demographic group.

Ferguson put St. Louis at the center of a tragic national debate about race and policing in the United States. But it has done something else, too. It has given us a case study in community dialogue in the digital age. From 2005 to 2014, circulation of the St. Louis Post Dispatch halved, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. That contraction is likely continuing. The paper maintains that is has more than 6 million unique visits to its website per month – more than double the total greater metropolitan population. But the proliferation of information sites and social media means the front page – print or virtual – is no longer our common gathering spot. St. Louis Public Radio, meanwhile, claims it reaches about 200,000 people, or roughly one tenth of the population, per week.

Might hashtags fill the role local daily newspapers once did? There is no question that social media have become the connective tissue of our time. But even there, the plethora of platforms scatters us. An April 6 survey by the Pew Research Center of Ferguson hashtags reveals our divided attention: 86 percent of Ferguson comments on Twitter were directly related to the Brown shooting and its aftermath, while 62 percent of Ferguson comments on Instagram focused on tangential thematic issues – race, police brutality and politics.

Those trends suggest a new niche for traditional journalism in the digital age. More information from more sources does not necessarily mean more common ground. With ever more ways to communicate, we’re clearly all talking more than ever. What we’ve lost, perhaps, is the common spaces where we gather to listen. In the future, sifting through the glut – clarifying, verifying and contextualizing – may be the more valuable exercise of the traditional media’s ethics and judgment and a smart way to maintain relevance and the public’s trust.


Kurt Shillinger is a former national political reporter for the Christian Science Monitor. He covered sub-Saharan Africa for the Boston Globe from 1997 to 2003.

Four Pinocchios for ‘Hands Up;’ Time to own up, editor says

A month after Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown, CNN broadcast what looked like a blockbuster “exclusive.” It was a videotape of two white construction workers who said Brown had his hands up when killed.  One worker even gestures with his hands up.

CNN’s analysts called it a “game changer” and its legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the witnesses had described “a cold-blooded murder.”


But instead of a game changer or evidence of a crime, the contractors turned out to be two of a score of unreliable witnesses and the clearest example of how the media helped create the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” myth.


The story began in St. Louis where KTVI had interviewed one of the workers and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the other.  The Post-Dispatch reported that the men’s accounts matched accounts from neighborhood residents about Brown raising his hands.



At MSNBC, Chris Hayes carried a long report and Lawrence O’Donnell followed up. Vox had a story as did the Washington Post. Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept included an account of the workers in its summary of evidence against Wilson entitled, “Down Outright Murder.”




But it all turned out to be wrong.  The video was not taken in “the final moments of the shooting,” as CNN reported.  Nor were the accounts of the contractors credible.

In fact, the telltale proof that the workers hadn’t seen what they claimed was contained in KTVI’s first interview with the men before any of the sensational coverage.  One of the men told KTVI that three officers were at the scene when only Wilson was there. That was the tipoff error that convinced the Justice Department the men hadn’t seen what they claimed.

In recent weeks, there have been a few mea culpas on the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” mantra.

The Washington Post’s opinion writer, Jonathan Capehart, admitted  it was “built on a lie.”  The Post’s fact-checker gave it a four Pinocchios rating for untruthfulness.  New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan recanted an earlier column criticizing the Times reporters for quoting unnamed sources who had corroborated Wilson’s account of self-defense.




Not everyone is willing to give up on Hands Up. The Post quoted one skeptic, Saint Louis University law school professor Justin Hansford, who retained Hands Up as his Facebook photo. Hansford said, “I don’t feel any way that I was somehow duped or tricked or that my picture was based on a lie. I think it is a very symbolic gesture that really speaks to the experiences of a lot of us, a lot of youth of color.”

A separate Justice Department report released the same day as the investigation of Wilson, provided plenty of proof that Ferguson police and municipal courts engaged in racist and unconstitutional practices targeting African-Americans.  As Attorney General Eric Holder said, this may have made the community more willing to believe the rumors and false accounts circulated about the death of Michael Brown.

At week’s end, St. Louis Public Radio editor Margaret Wolf Freivogel said in a column that it was time for the press to reappraise not only why it had gotten Hands Up wrong, but also why it had failed to report in the past about the racist and unconstitutional police and municipal court practices  in Ferguson.


“We journalists hold others accountable for their shortcomings,” she wrote. “But in the months since Michael Brown was shot, we’ve had trouble owning up to our own.”


Publisher’s note: William H. Freivogel is a contributor to St. Louis Public Radio where his wife, Margaret, is the editor.

Michel Martin urges journalists to tell the uncomfortable truth

“Journalism matters because we have the responsibility to inform readers of the truth of their world, even when they don’t want us to.”

That was the message Michel Martin, host of NPR’s “Tell Me More,” and journalist of more than 25 years gave guests at Gateway Journalism Review’s First Amendment Celebration March 19.

Drawing journalists and friends of news from around the region, the event took place at the Edward Jones headquarters in Des Peres, Mo.

“We are following the story of ourselves as a nation,” Martin said of the media’s Ferguson coverage. Just as we as a people are imperfect, journalism should “hold a mirror to both flaws and beauty,” she said.

Martin said she didn’t want to give too many opinions on the shooting of Michael Brown, because she would be moderating a Ferguson community discussion again shortly and wanted to retain some neutrality.

She left the opinion to the follow-up panel. The panel consisted of Alvin A. Reid, a weekly panelist on KETC-PBS’s “Donnybrook,” and St. Louis Magazine contributor; Patrick Gauen, who has been the police and court editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch since 2000, and a weekly columnist since 1989; Tim Eby, who has been in public radio for three decades and is general manager of St. Louis Public Radio; and Craig Cheatham who has worked in broadcast journalism for 30 years. Cheatam filed numerous in-depth reports on Ferguson and led KMOV’s analysis of the Grand Jury documents.

Sorting out facts

GJR’s publisher, William Freivogel, introduced the panel discussion by asking two questions:

“How did we allow this mantra to get started — ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ — when the Justice Department has refuted that it happened?” he asked.  And “how have we allowed pervasive racism to exist so long right under our noses?”

While Gauen said the facts of the case contradicted “the narrative,” he thought Brown has become symbolic for pervasive – and real – victimization around the country.

Reid wasn’t so sure the Justice Department report fully refuted the narrative. “I am convinced we still don’t know what happened on that street in Ferguson.”

Gauen said there was “an inability to tell a balanced story on all sides.” In contrast to 50 years ago, when there were no protester accounts, now there were few police viewpoints. The police had less control of the information surrounding this case than they typically do, he said. Social media contributed to them losing the shape of the narrative.

Touching on citizen journalists’ role in Ferguson, Reid said their involvement has been “problematic.” Their contributions were marred through their antagonism of the police, he said.

“I felt very early there was a false narrative going on,” said Cheatham. “There is a difference between peaceful and non-violent protest. I reported on how some of the police went down and were scared by those protests. I was tagged as a ‘pro-cop’ reporter, and in that environment, you don’t want to get tagged as pro-anything.”

He added that he thought the media did a poor job of covering the protesters’ side early on, when they were too busy instead staying on top of the story as it broke.

“People want their own facts,” Cheatam later said. Journalists shouldn’t feel pressure to cater to them.

Looking at the big picture, “the region has permanently changed,” according to Eby. “There are a lot of people who just want things to go back to the way they were before Aug. 9. I don’t think that’s possible,” he said. It is now journalists’ job to bring the conversation the case started to the forefront, he added.

‘Tell all stories’

Before moderating their panel, Martin talked about the Children’s Crusade, the 1963 civil rights demonstration by hundreds of Birmingham school students in Alabama. Local newspapers agreed not to put the confrontation on their front pages, even though the national papers did – it was “too explosive,” Martin said. There were also no quotes from the demonstrators.

The Birmingham papers said they didn’t know how to cover the story – and wouldn’t know who to call for quotes from the protestors’ side. “I’m very confident that we are doing better than that,” Martin said. “But are we doing the best we can do? How deep are our rolodexes?”

Martin used this question to pivot to underrepresented groups within journalism, pointing out large gender and race disparities in bylines nationwide. Even the New York Times, under then-editor Jill Abramson, had the fewest female bylines among the 10 biggest news outlets. On network television, most news shows’ guest analysts remain white males.

“Are women of color only capable of talking about what they are, not what they know?” Martin asked.

“We have to do our jobs,” she said – and do them better. Journalism should “tell all stories,” and depict “the world as it is, not as we want it to be. It is the media’s honor, its duty to learn this uncomfortable world as it is, not as it was.” This is important in world of polarized media where you can now “pick your own truth,” she said.

“It’s expensive education,” she concluded, quoting former GJR fundraiser speaker John Seigenthaler, for whom she had earlier asked a moment of silence. “But we’ve tried ignorance so many ways, and it doesn’t work.”



Post-Dispatch wins Scripps Howard award for Ferguson coverage

The Scripps Howard Foundation has awarded its first place national breaking news award for 2014 to the staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for coverage of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the chaotic events that followed.

“A news organization is never tested more thoroughly than when a major story breaks in its backyard,” the contest judges said. “The Post-Dispatch was tested by a story that was fluid, emotional, important and not easily told with clarity and balance. It passed this test with textbook execution.”

The Cincinnati-based foundation announced the awards and finalists Tuesday. The contest entries were reviewed by industry experts who studied them during two days of judging at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Post-Dispatch entries for editorial writing and photojournalism, both focusing on Ferguson events, were finalists in the Scripps Howard competition. They were: “Lessons from Ferguson,” editorials by Tony Messenger and Kevin Horrigan and a portfolio of photos by Robert Cohen.

Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9 following an altercation on a city street. A St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Wilson last November, and a Justice Department report released earlier this month concluded that Wilson had been justified in shooting.

The circumstances surrounding Brown’s death and the grand jury’s decision led to months of protest, sporadic violence and property destruction. News organizations from throughout the country converged on what quickly became a national story. The incident prompted an examination of police practices, racial disparities in law enforcement employment and injustice in the operations of municipal courts.

The judges who reviewed the breaking stories for the Scripps Howard contest said the Post-Dispatch editors recognized the implications of the story from the first minute they learned of the shooting. “Using every resource at its disposal, the Post-Dispatch began reporting the story and telling it, first on social media and by morning in print,” the judges said. “Its reporters and photographers stayed on the streets, with apparent inexhaustible commitment. And its editors and layout team pulled together the results in vivid and compelling packages on day one, day two and beyond.”

The newspaper’s reporting staff was sometimes exposed to physical violence in carrying out their assignments. Once about 20 people picketed the Post-Dispatch claiming it was biased against protestors. The newspaper scored news beats in its coverage such as the official autopsy of Michael Brown and surveillance video of Darren Wilson leaving the Ferguson police station after the shooting.

The award carries with it a trophy and $10,000. The other finalists in the breaking news category included the Everett, (Wash.) Daily Herald for its coverage of a mudslide that crushed a rural neighborhood killing 43 people, and the CBS Evening News’ reporting from Cuba following the surprise announcement of re-established relations with the United States.

The Scripps Howard Foundation, established in 1953, is the charitable arm of E.W. Scripps Company, which owns television stations and other media outlets throughout the country. Recipients of the journalism awards will be honored in Denver on May 21.


Twitter explodes with invective, partisan comment after Ferguson shootings

Twitter provided the earliest reports of the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson this week. It also provided the forum for invective, hate and partisan reaction.

President Barack Obama used Twitter to condemn the shootings and conservative critics condemned Obama for relegating his response to Twitter.

Fox commentators blamed Attorney General Eric Holder’s report last week on unconstitutional police practices in Ferguson for creating the atmosphere in which the officers were shot. On Fox, Jeff Roorda, the head of the St. Louis police union said the resignation of Ferguson Chief Tom Jackson wasn’t enough for protesters, commenting, “They didn’t get what they wanted when Tom stepped down. They got it late last night when they finally, successfully shot two police officers.”


Protest leaders and the Brown family condemned the violence in press conferences and on Twitter.  But social media critics of the Ferguson police filled Twitter with invective about the police shootings being just in light of the death of Michael Brown.


Meanwhile the Twitter handle for police supporters #bluelivesmatter was trending.

Minds open; don’t prejudge

In announcing that no federal criminal charges would be filed against Officer Darren Wilson, Attorney General Eric Holder said he recognized “the findings in our report may leave some to wonder how the department’s findings can differ so sharply from some of the initial, widely reported accounts of what transpired.”  He added that it “remains not only valid — but essential — to question how such a strong alternative version of events was able to take hold so swiftly, and be accepted so readily.”

The attorney general offered one explanation for the willingness of the protesters to accept the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” narrative that the Justice Department report refutes.  His explanation was that the blatantly unconstitutional policing and municipal court practices were so racist that they created a powder keg that exploded on the August afternoon that Wilson killed Michael Brown.

But those in the media – traditional, new and social – might also take a look in the mirror.

Ron Hosko, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund that supports cops accused of crimes while on duty, put it this way in the New York Times: “The lie got repeated over and over again. It was the headline in major newspapers and other major media publications all summer, all fall. And the subtext was: Racist rogue cop kills innocent black teen. And it was a lie.”


The Times, in quoting Hosko, seems almost surprised that the hand’s up mantra was not supported by facts.  But there shouldn’t be any surprise. It’s been clear for months that there was little evidence to support it and other details in initial media accounts.

In fact, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said it himself in his press conference in November announcing the grand jury’s decision not to indict. He said then:

“The most significant challenge encountered in this investigation has been the 24-hour news cycle and its insatiable appetite for something, for anything to talk about, following closely behind with the non-stop rumors on social media.

The liberal online media echo chamber led by Huffington Post blasted the claim as “bizarre,” commenting that, “Media figures and social media users lashed out at the notion that cable news and Twitter were to blame for the tension in the months following Brown’s death, rather than the death itself.”


What changed with the Justice Department’s report this week is that career prosecutors went witness by witness showing how the original media accounts of unreliable witnesses were refuted by either physical evidence or inconsistencies with later accounts.

In the end, the department’s investigators concluded that all credible witnesses, physical evidence and forensic analysis either supported Wilson’s account of shooting in self-defense or failed to refute his account.

In the long run, the most important story this week was the grossly unconstitutional way in which Ferguson ran its police department and municipal courts in tandem as an ATM for the city budget, brutalizing African-Americans along the way.  But hopefully the media will take some time for reflection before rushing off with a false narrative on the next national media storm.