Saturday, June 19, 2010

Punch Drunk

The Root ran a quick blog piece about a recent incident where a Seattle police officer punched a 17-year old girl in the face, while stopping her and another girl for jaywalking. Basically, an altercation started, and the police officer threw a punch. As one might expect, this has sparked a certain amount of controversy. But one of the things about the Root piece is the video it links to. From WTVD news – in Raleigh, North Carolina. Obviously because we don’t have television stations in the Seattle area that could show the footage (and all of it, at that). Or, I don’t know, maybe link to a local news outlet that covered the story?

I suspect that the reason the Root linked to the WTVD story is that the author lives in the Raleigh area, and that’s the television station that they watch. They saw a juicy story about a white policeman punching a black teenager, and it was stop the presses. But the WTVD story shows only a moment of the full video that was shot by the bystander, which is more than two minutes long, and in doing so, completely de-contextualizes the incident. This isn’t helpful journalism, especially when taking a moment to track down the actual video isn’t very hard. But perhaps more importantly it casts African-Americans as whiners who are willing to finely slice an incident to make themselves look good at the expense of the truth of the matter, and the media as listening to the loudest voices, and portraying only their side of the story. (On the other hand, it’s more or less ironclad that whenever you see your local area in the national news: “Oh, crap – what have we done now,” is rarely the wrong response.)

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