By:
April 23, 2021

On Memorial Day 2020, a Black man died while in police custody in Minneapolis. As we now know, that man was George Floyd and there was a reason he died.

A police officer kneeled on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. That former officer, Derek Chauvin, was convicted this week on two counts of murder and a count of manslaughter in a Minnesota criminal court.

One of the media stories that has emerged in recent days is remembering how Floyd’s death was first officially reported to the media by police.

The report at the time said, in part: “He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”

The police report made mention that no weapons were used.

And all of this is true. But it isn’t the whole story.

There is no mention that Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes, or that Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe and called for his dead mother. The world might never have known any of that had it not been for a teenager who recorded what happened on her phone.

But before the video went viral, the police put out their media report.

The journalism lesson about this part of the story: don’t take the police’s word as gospel and certainly not as the whole story.

As CNN’s Eric Levenson wrote, “In light of his conviction, that original press release is worth revisiting to understand the ways that police statements can hide the truth with a mix of passive language, blatant omissions and mangled sense of timing.”

Northeastern University journalism professor and media observer Dan Kennedy writes, “Major crimes will always receive journalistic scrutiny. Official sources may have the upper hand early on, but as reporters keep digging, they’ll generally ferret out the truth. But we need a serious rethink of how we cover routine police news. And we need to do it at a time when local news resources are stretched to the limit.”

In fact, the headline of Kennedy’s blog post — a post worth your time — says it well: “Taking dictation from the police is no longer good enough. In fact, it never was.”

A ridiculous statement

A Fox News’ show wagged a finger at NBC News and “NBC Nightly News’” anchor Lester Holt. And one of the show’s guests made a ridiculous comment in the nit-picking conversation.

Fox News’ “Outnumbered” —  a show that features former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, by the way — was talking about criticisms of NBC News for how it edited the 9-1-1 call that was made before Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio. In its report, NBC News didn’t air the portion of the 9-1-1 call in which the caller said someone was “trying to stab us.”

But Holt clearly said at the beginning of the report: “A police officer shot and killed a 16-year-old Black girl in Columbus, Ohio, saying she was threatening others with a knife.” A graphic on the screen said, “Police fatally shoot 16-year-old Black girl holding knife.”

NBC never hid that a knife was involved, so I’m not sure what the complaints are all about.

But Lisa Montgomery Kennedy — who goes by the single name “Kennedy” — bashed Holt and his journalism, and closed her commentary by saying “No wonder his ratings suck.”

Not long after, The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona tweeted, “For the week of April 12, Holt’s show was the 4th most-watched on TV and averaged 7 million total viewers. Kennedy’s Fox Biz primetime show, meanwhile, pulled in 93,000 viewers last month.”

CNN’s Brian Stelter tweeted, “Fox’s ratings-driven insults are usually way off, and this one was way way way way WAY off.”

Hold on a second

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file)

Last week, tech workers at The New York Times announced they were forming a union and asked the Times to recognize it. The workers consisted of more than 650 employees, including software engineers, designers, data analysts and product managers.

But Thursday, the Times announced it would not voluntarily recognize the union and told the group to put it up to a formal vote through the National Labor Relations Board.

New York Times’ media reporter Katie Robertson reported that Times’ chief executive Meredith Kopit Levien sent a letter to employees saying, “We have heard questions and concerns from many of our colleagues about what this would really mean for their careers. As a result, this morning, we advised the NewsGuild that we believe the right next step is a democratic process that surfaces all the facts, answers questions from employees and managers, and then lets employees decide via an election.”

According to Robertson, a NewsGuild spokesperson, in a statement, said the Times’ decision to not recognize the union was “deeply disappointing” and a “sign of disrespect.”

Robertson writes, “If an employer does not voluntarily recognize a union, the National Labor Relations Board may hold an election. If a majority votes in favor, the union can start negotiations with management.”

Scripps Howard Awards

The Scripps Howard Foundation has announced the 2020 winners of the Scripps Howard Awards, recognizing the best in American journalism.

Winners in various categories include the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s coverage of the killing of George Floyd; KING-TV in Seattle for a series on racism in the Northwest; The New York Times’ reporting on Donald Trump’s taxes; The Tampa Bay Times’ special report on police abusing civil rights of citizens; and CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell and her report on sexual assault in the military.

For a complete list of winners, click here.

Media tidbits

(Photo courtesy of ABC News)

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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