Tuesday, October 20, 2015

NBC News Story On Police Shooting Misses The Mark

An NBC News story on the police shooting of a man in Florida provides a good example of why some people charge the mainstream media with racism.

The headline of the story about the death of drummer Corey Jones reads, "Florida Plainclothes Officer Shoots Dead Armed Musician Corey Jones."

Notice: not, "Musician Corey Jones" - "Armed Musician Corey Jones."

The story is accompanied by a photo of Jones, with a caption describing him as "Corey Jones, a well-known local drummer, who was armed..."

The person who wrote the headline and the person who wrote the photo caption (assuming they are separate people) both went beyond what the story, by reporter Jacquellena Carrero, actually tells us.

Here's the opening paragraph:

Police in Florida have launched an independent investigation after a plainclothes officer shot dead a well-known local drummer — who police say was armed — while he sat in his car on a highway exit ramp. (emphasis mine)

There is a difference - a big difference - between NBC News noting that the police say Jones was armed, and NBC saying directly that Jones was armed. The second thing, which the headline and the photo caption do, states the police assertion as an established fact.

But in fact, the accuracy of the police assertion has not been well-established. The incident is under investigation.

At best, the headline and photo caption are sloppy; at worst, they are racist, buying into assumptions about the dangerousness of Black men.

I'm inclined to go with sloppy, because while I know there's a lot of racism out there, I believe there is even more sloppiness.

In any case, the account begs for more questions to be asked and answered. Questions like, "Did Jones even own a gun?" and "Did Jones threaten to shoot?" (having a gun is one thing, pointing it is another) and "Did Officer Raja identify himself as a police officer when approaching Jones's car?"

If I were waiting for a tow late at night, alone...
if I had a gun...
if an unfamiliar car - not a tow truck - pulled up...
and if an unknown man got out and approached me without identifying himself...
I might well have pointed my gun toward the guy in an effort to make him keep his distance.

The story doesn't say whether or not Officer Raja was in a police vehicle. A CBS report says that he was in an unmarked car, not equipped with a dashcam. With no video and no known witnesses, there's no one to dispute Raja's story.

But that does not entitle NBC News to uncritically parrot it in a headline and a photo caption.

Come on, NBC - do better.

(P.S. to CBS - could you not obtain a single photo of Raja other than one of him receiving a medal?)

UPDATE: NBC did do better. The descriptions of Corey Jones as "armed" have disappeared.

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