A journalist-involved story

23 Jul

Guest-blogging at The Agitator, Maggie McNeill juxtaposes headlines to two blog posts about the same incident.

The Los Angeles Times reports “Angry Anaheim Crowd Threw Bottles at Police, Set Fires on Streets,” while according to Reason, “Anaheim Cops Shoot Rubber Bullets, Unleash Dog on Crowd Protesting Police Shooting”

Each headline paints a picture, and many readers will see nothing more, especially those of the former (stories about law enforcement abuse are common — and popular — at Reason). As McNeill writes, “One would scarcely know they were talking about the same thing.” But the first headline isn’t simply one-sided. It’s a prelude to a truly sloppy piece of journalism. Let’s do a close reading of what follows.

Anaheim police were investigating a violent melee Saturday night between police officers and an angry crowd.

Notice the disconnect between the headline and first paragraph. Passive readers will only see the angry crowd.

Authorities said the crowd threw bottles and set fires at an intersection, and police used non-lethal force to disperse them.

The first half of this sentence is noticeably more specific than the second half. “Non-lethal force” comes in many shapes and sizes.

It was unclear why the officers first approached the men, but [Sgt. Bob Dunn of the Anaheim Police Department] Dunn said they gave chase and one of the officers followed one of the men to the front of an apartment complex in the 700 block of North Anna Drive where the officer-involved shooting occurred.

It was unclear? Did the reporter ask a follow-up question? Did the police refuse to comment? Write that. Moreover, a journalist should refrain from using the phrase “officer-involved shooting” unless it’s a direct quotation. At best, it’s a euphemism. What was the officer’s involvement? The officer SHOT someone. If someone else shot a cop, would either the police or the press refer to an “officer-involved shooting”?

Maybe this is standard for the LAT. I hear there was a controversial comedian-involved joke about rape recently.

The man who was shot has not been identified and was pronounced dead at 7 p.m., authorities said.

I love the passive voice, don’t you?

One harrowing moment was when a police dog somehow got free from an officer’s car and went at several people. Dunn said it was unclear if anyone had been bitten or injured.

Did the dog open the door himself? Is this a deleted scene from Turner and Hooch?

“The officer was quickly able to get the dog back into the vehicle,” Dunn said.

Is there an opposing point of view here, or are we just going to quote Sgt. Dunn over and over again? Nine paragraphs deep.

Residents said they are demanding answers from the Anaheim police chief about the shooting.

“We were all waiting for him to come and talk to the community and give us an explanation. Why kill this man?” resident Yesenia Rojas told the Orange County Register, which also reported that some in the crowd said they were hurt by an escaped police dog.

The Orange County Register conducted some actual journalism. Seriously, click that link. The difference is night and day.

I emailed the LAT reporter but have not received a reporter-involved reply.

Update: The real story gets worse.

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Posted by on July 23, 2012 in Journalism, Justice


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