Accuracy in Media

We are seeing the herd mentality of the media at work in coverage of Ferguson, Missouri, and even some conservatives have joined the pack. Jonathan V. Last wrote in The Weekly Standard newsletter that arrived in my inbox on Wednesday that “a TV news crew was assaulted by police officers” in Ferguson. That claim is false.

He linked to a story from The Wrap headlined, “Al Jazeera Accuses Ferguson Police of ‘Egregious Assault on Freedom of the Press.’” But the story itself includes an update noting that the police say they did not fire any tear gas at the news crew and actually “aided the Al Jazeera reporters” when they were dispersed.

This confirms what we reported on August 18 that “The film footage supplied by Al Jazeera only showed one of the correspondents being ‘caught in the crossfire’ when a tear gas canister was shown near the news crew. It was not clear where it came from or who threw it.”

So a tear gas canister being discovered near a news crew and thrown by someone has become an “assault” by the police. This is absurd. The film footage actually showed an Al Jazeera reporter walking into the tear gas, rather than away from it. The incident seemed staged, probably to generate ratings for a propaganda channel that is desperately seeking viewers.

The update from the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department goes into more detail about the false story of the assault. The Wrap quoted department spokesman Lt. David Tiefenbrunn as saying that it was not the agency that fired the tear gas, but that it took down lighting equipment that Al Jazeera had installed on the street “because it made it difficult for officers to see.” The spokesman said “the SWAT team later helped the reporters out of the area, and reunited them with their equipment.” The Wrap added that “He said he did not know which of the police departments in the area fired the gas, but that he did not believe the reporters were targeted.”

The Weekly Standard’s treatment of the alleged assault is another unfortunate example of journalists making serious errors in judgment about events they did not witness. But the fact that an influential publication such as this would fall for the propaganda shows how the narrative about alleged police misbehavior has taken hold in the media. “When you have Kevin Williamson, Mark Steyn, and Ross Douthat all lined up to criticize the police in Ferguson, Missouri, you know that something is happening,” wrote Jonathan Last. “Part of the reason some conservatives are turning on law enforcement is the militarization of the police.”

But perhaps they have overreacted to a liberal version of events promoted by “news” organizations that want to find the police guilty of being prepared for the worst.

In the Al Jazeera case, it appears that the “news” channel contributed to its own reporters getting gassed because of their bright camera lights on the street that caused confusion. As indicated in our previous report on this incident, the tear gas was probably thrown at the outside agitators and demonstrators, but was falsely interpreted by the propaganda channel to have been directed at them. That enabled Al Jazeera reporters to pose as the victims of law enforcement. This generated some publicity for the ratings-starved channel.

Fortunately, some writers and commentators are starting to set the record straight about the police response.

Daniel Greenfield at FrontPageMag writes that “The militarization of the police was a response to left-wing violence and terror.” In a devastating article, he notes that:

  • “If the left hadn’t spent much of the last century inciting race riots and setting up terrorist groups, there wouldn’t be police officers armed for war.”
  • “If not for the left’s disastrous social experiments, the War on Drugs would never have been necessary.”
  • “Finally, if the left hadn’t shifted immigration over to the Third World while sympathizing with Islamic terrorists, September 11 and its law enforcement and military aftermath would never have been necessary.”

In the case of Ferguson, he writes, “Stripping away the rioting and looting from the police in riot gear made the law enforcement response seem deranged and insane. It’s only when we see the rioting, the looting and the arson, the shots fired and Molotov cocktails thrown that the heavy gear suddenly has a context.”

In his piece, “Reject the ‘Militarized’ Police Screed,” William R. Hawkins writes, “Perhaps the irresponsible hyperbole about the ‘militarized police’ will fade now that the mob violence in Ferguson has required the calling out of an element of the real military, the Missouri National Guard.” He hopes that “the dangerous flirtation too many supposedly conservative pundits had with left-wing rhetoric will now be seen as an embarrassing episode not to be repeated.”

Alfred S. Regnery writes at Breitbart that “A Google search for militarization of police would make an innocent think that cops in battle gear and AR-15s, riding around in tanks and armored personnel carriers, are on every corner in every town and city in the United States.” He goes on to say that the misuses of military equipment by police in some cases “are far outweighed by the effective demonstration and use of ‘militarization’ by law enforcement” in many others. “To condemn the practice overall because of a handful of misuses makes no more sense than to ban the purchase and ownership of handguns, rifles, and shotguns because a few people misuse them.”

Yet, the reaction by many in the liberal and conservative media to seeing police in military gear and with military equipment was one of horror. That is why the term “militarization” took off in acceptance. It took on a new and more ominous tone in the work of a libertarian writer named Radley Balko, whose articles have been characterized by gross exaggerations and inaccuracies.

It is a legitimate area of inquiry, but the media have mostly fallen for Balko’s distortions.

Jim Simpson wrote about this topic in an AIM special report, “Police Militarization, Abuses of Power, and the Road to Impeachment.” But as veteran crime blogger Tina Trent points out, Simpson focused almost exclusively on federal agency interventions, and he did not carelessly conflate federal behavior with that of state and local police entities. “He does not exaggerate the incidence or significance of events,” Trent noted. “Nor does he deny or minimize the criminal conditions that demand police response.”

Trent commented about Simpson’s work for AIM: “He offers balanced reporting, acknowledging that while select excessive actions can be identified after the fact, they are extremely rare, and state and local agencies are responsible and responsive while performing legitimate, high-danger, high-stress jobs and have excellent records of efficiently protecting the public from real threats.”

By contrast, she says, “Knee-jerk anti-cop activists like Radley Balko and his peers behave as if police are simply sadists who attack innocent people with no provocation.”

In connection with Ferguson, after a police officer killed a black robber in self-defense, the term “militarization” does not make sense. The police would have been irresponsible not to have been prepared to protect themselves and the community for the violence they anticipated with all of the equipment at their disposal.

The facts show that the police in Ferguson were prepared for the violence that did, in fact, take place, based on the racial agitation that we saw in the Trayvon Martin case. That controversy involved a citizen named George Zimmerman performing a “Neighborhood Watch” function. Zimmerman was charged with murder but was acquitted, after being assaulted by Martin, a young black male.

Like the police officer in Ferguson, Zimmerman had to go into hiding.

The fact that these two individuals went into hiding is more evidence of what it is the police are up against. The criminal elements have taken charge and now, in the case of Ferguson and with the help of Attorney General Eric Holder, they want to railroad the police officer with a trumped up charge.

Al Jazeera would rather claim police brutality than honestly report on what is actually happening, and how their own reporters contribute to the madness.

But why are some in the conservative media taking their word for it? They should be taking the side of law and order. That is the real definition of peace with justice.

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  • Ljubica48

    The so-called “militarization” of the police is a red herring. The police in America have always been an armed entity, organized on a paramilitary basis with regards to structure, training, and culture. That is dictated by the nature of the work they perform in terms of emergency services, with the need for a distinct chain of command and vital requirement to adhere to training and orders. You might as well say that the Fire Department is “militarized” with its battalions and fire brigades, as that organizational structure is also paramilitary.
    I would refer the critics of the so-called “militarization” of the police to the infamous (but apparently forgotten) North Hollywood shootout. This was an armed confrontation between two heavily armed and armored bank robbers and officers of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in the North Hollywood district of Los Angeles on February 28, 1997. Both robbers were killed, eleven police officers and seven civilians were injured, and numerous vehicles and other property were damaged or destroyed by the nearly 2,000 rounds of ammunition fired by the robbers and police. I would recommend viewing that shootout on You Tube, as it makes a very dramatic and real statement about what hazards the police can face today.
    That was an eye-opener for police across the country. It was a miracle that there were not a score of officers and civilians killed in that incident. Officers had to put themselves at risk to rescue wounded and trapped officers and civilians that were in the line of fire. This was accomplished by driving unarmored police cars into the line of fire to extract those victims. Hence the need for armored vehicles available to respond when the need arises. And if the financially strapped police departments can obtain that kind of equipment at a discount or for free from the Defense Department, all the better for the taxpayers as well as the officers that are safer. There have been scores of armored vehicle rescues of people trapped in the line of fire since departments have been acquiring them.
    And one could argue that the general populace has become more “militarized” over the years in terms of weaponry and ammunition, along with a propensity to aggressively engage against law enforcement personnel. If it’s your husband or wife or son or daughter wearing that badge, placing themselves in harms way, how much armor and protective gear is too much? Do you want your police officer loved one coming home unscathed?
    I’m so tired of all the whining about “militarization” of the police (along with the unstated subtext that the military is somehow an evil entity).. I would like to recommend that we paint all of the police equipment pink with floral accents in order to remove .that “militarization” stigma. Or perhaps we could make Eric Holder a happy camper by dressing the police in pink tutus and giving them magic wands that disperse fairy dust.

  • boysenberry

    Well said. The police is always under scrutiny, they have a tough job. Damn if they do and damn if they don’t.
    Maybe the reporters and the mo b were expecting a bunch of psychiatrists. But make sure they had extra sensitivity training.

  • bbf

    OK. So now explain how Michael Brown was never shot to death by police..and it was all a publicity stunt!

  • Luke

    And you expect honest, unbiased reporting from Al Jaxeera because. . . ?

  • Vinnie The-Bachelor

    I saw the footage of the police firing on the peaceful protest and at the media covering the protest during the night. should get shot to and their families should be shot to death by the police so they will understand the issue.

  • Vinnie The-Bachelor

    tough job? Guess what you dumb ass Americans. The police officers are all over Europe, and they do NOT BEHAVE in the SAME manner!!!! This is worse than what the Nazi’s did. They at least treated their citizens with respect. Boysenberry, you deserve to be shot by a cop, and i curse your family to be shot by american cops for the next 100 years.

  • Vinnie The-Bachelor

    because they are not FOX news you moron. Americans are so stupid, it’s beyond belief.

  • Vinnie The-Bachelor

    Luke should be shot by a cop, and I hope his family and friends will get shot by cops.

  • Luke

    Interesting. Immediate leap to ad hominem attack. Thank you for conceding the argument since you have nothing factual to contribute and seem to only be interested in calling names. Better hurry back to the playground little boy. Somebody might get your place in the line for the slide.

  • AndRebecca

    So Vinnie, you aren’t an American. I hate to think of what you might be. 170 million people in the last- what- 120 years around the world, including Europe were killed by their governments. In this country that hasn’t happened. Our police are great, but the ignorant don’t know that.

  • AndRebecca

    I hope you get thrown off this site.

  • Final Slooshin

    Yes, Al Jazeera is a propaganda channel. But if we had had Al Jazeera in 2002 and 2003, we wouldn’t have walked so blindly into the Bush War.