Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ferguson: A Media Circle Jerk

Ferguson is going to be a topic of discussion for months and probably years now that the grand jury has declined to indict Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown.

I'm not going to even attempt to weigh the evidence on both sides of this case, or examine the social issues brought to light. Better writers and more knowledgeable people than I have already dissected the shooting in thousands of opinion columns and news stories.

No, I'm writing this to bitch about the overall lousy reporting on Michael Brown's death. Lousy is an understatement. Sloppy, slipshod, stupid, shallow, biased and ignorant are a few more terms I'll apply.

One report I saw stated that "double jeopardy" meant that Wilson could not be charged in the future with a crime relating to his shooting of Michael Brown. That's a crock of manure. There's nothing to prevent another grand jury from being convened in the future to hear the evidence and theoretically indict Wilson. Will it happen? Doubtful, but it's always a possibility.

As in any incident where there are a large number of witnesses, accounts of what happened on the scene vary wildly. Some witnesses said Brown had his hands raised when he was shot. Other said he charged Wilson.

None of this really matters. Why? What the media didn't tell you is that eyewitness testimony is considered to be mostly unreliable.

People believe that memory works something like a videotape - storing information is like recording and remembering is like playing back what was recorded. However, memory does not work in this way.

Memory is a reconstruction, not a record. A person's memory can be affected by factors ranging from the line of questioning used by police in an interview to unconsciously picking up bits and pieces of what other persons on the scene are saying, to the witness's own personal beliefs and convictions.

For every breathless tale of a bloodthirsty rogue cop emptying his magazine into a helpless kid there is a conflicting account of an enraged bull first hitting, then later charging a peace officer half his size. Did people knowingly lie to investigators? There's no doubt a few probably did. But most people stated what they actually believed happened.

The media let us down by not digging into the aspects of human memory and how it works, and explaining to us, "This is why there are so many varying stories from the scene of the shooting."

When rioting broke out after the grand jury's decision was announced, we were treated to endless video footage laced with somber commentary about the enraged citizens of Ferguson burning their own homes and the businesses they patronized.

The riots didn't happen because of outrage, but because the gathering mobs were practically told by everyone from CNN right up to Governor Nixon that angry protests were expected and would be more or less tolerated. It was like throwing gallons of gas on a tiny flame that otherwise would have burned out on its own.

No one was stealing cellphones or starting fires because they were upset over Michael Brown being shot or his killer walking free. They were stealing for the same reason that Michael Brown apparently stole a handful of cigarillos; because they believed that they could get away with it.

Before a riot, community organizers, activists of all stripes, and people who simply like violence show up to coordinate, spread slogans, incite the locals and justify the coming storm. These people are the true agitators - non-locals looking for an opportunity to burn and steal.

The lazy media sticks to its narrative of an outraged community that engages in excesses, especially since they can’t tell the locals apart from the out-of-towners. Local law enforcement officials can, but no one bothers talking to them.

By the way, how many of you saw the photos and footage of black people standing guard to protect the storefronts of innocent white Ferguson business owners? I thought not.

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