Watching a novel take form: Last week, journalists gained access to the transcripts of what was said on the day of George Floyd's death.
Two days ago, journalist gained access to the actual body camera footage from which those transcripts emerged. On each occasion, the Washington Post's Holly Bailey published a front-page report about what the new material revealed.
Below, you see the account she gave last week of what happened when two rookie officers, Thomas Lane and J. A. Keung, arrived on the scene that horrible day and first interacted with Floyd:
BAILEY (7/9/20): Officers had responded to a 911 call from Cup Foods complaining of a customer who had passed a counterfeit $20 bill. Kueng and Lane were the first officers on the scene, and the transcripts show that a store clerk pointed them to where Floyd and two others sat in a parked car nearby.According to last week's report, Lane ask Floyd to show his hands at least five times before he drew his gun. This information might tend to suggest that Officer Lane may have had reason to be concerned, at least at that point.
Transcripts show that Lane approached the car and called on Floyd at least five times to show his hands, drawing his gun when he didn’t. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Floyd responded, according to a transcript of Lane’s body camera. “I didn’t do nothing. . . . What did I do though? What did we do, Mr. Officer?”
Last week, we were puzzled by Bailey's overall take on what happened that day, but she did include that information, and quite a bit more, in her lengthy report. Yesterday, in her new report, she described that same initial approach to Floyd in this new, amended way:
BAILEY (7/16/20): Officers had responded to a 911 call from Cup Foods complaining of a customer who had passed a counterfeit $20 bill. Kueng and Lane were the first officers on the scene, and the video shows that a store clerk pointed them to where Floyd and two others sat in a parked car nearby.As you can see, that first paragraph is taken, word for word, from the previous week's report. There's no obvious reason why it shouldn't have been. It what it said was right last week, it's likely still right today.
Lane pulled his weapon on Floyd within 15 seconds of first approaching the blue SUV where Floyd sat in the driver’s seat. His body camera shows he twice tapped on the vehicle’s window with a flashlight. Floyd initially didn’t respond, but the second time, he looked over his shoulder and seemed startled to see Lane.
After that, the story changes this week. Lane's five (or more) requests to Floyd are no longer mentioned. Instead, Bailey's wording makes it sound like Floyd was approached by the kind of cop who draws his weapon first and maybe asks questions later.
As you can almost surely see, Bailey's new account is substantially different from her account last week. In the old report, Lane made five requests before drawing his gun. This week, it almost sounds like he drew his gun before doing anything else.
(In her next paragraph, Bailey's jumbled chronology may undercut that initial impression.)
Is there something in the videotape which justifies the changes which occur in this new account? We have no way of knowing. The videotape hasn't been made public at this point.
Having said that, we'll also say this:
Quite routinely, this is the way the mainstream press corps creates its standard stories. The novel they're writing gets better and better as the days and weeks go by.
In this case, Lane is being thrown under the bus in the race to imprison all four officers on the scene that day. Could it be that last week's report of this initial approach to Floyd was a bit too fair and balanced?
We can't answer that question. But from the standpoint of obvious preferred Storyline, the story reads better this week.
Let us stress the basic point again:
We don't know if Bailey's new report is better than her first report concerning the basic facts. We can tell you this:
Reporters routinely massage their facts as the shape of the preferred narrative becomes increasingly clear. New types of wording will be introduced. Basic facts may disappear.
We've reported this type of transformation of Storyline before. Simple logic says it can't be so, but they actually do this sort of thing a great deal of the time.
At this point, we'll state our overall bias:
It seems to us that it's pretty clear who killed the late George Floyd. If he wants his day in court, he'll get to offer a defense. But it's hard to see how Derek Chauvin will be able to justify the apparently crazy behavior in which he engaged that day.
By way of contrast, it seems to us that the rookie officer Lane is being thrown under the bus in service to preferred Storyline. We've also noticed this:
No one is asking the chief of police why use of the chokehold was still allowed in Minneapolis that day. No one is asking the chief of police why he still had an apparent nut like Chauvin out on the street that day.
No one is asking what kind of training the rookie cops received concerning what they should do if, on their fourth or fifth day on the job, a veteran who served as their training officer starts behaving in a crazy way and refuses to heed their suggestions to stop.
What kind of training had been provided? What had those rookies been told they should do? So far, we've seen no one ask.
For whatever reason, the chief of police has been cast as one of the good guys in this tale. (He was willing to take a knee after he fired the rookies!) Meanwhile, the rookie cops are being turned into Chauvin 2 and 3.
In line with that, as Woody Guthrie wrote, every crime in Oklahoma is being added to their names. Guthrie thought he saw this sort of thing being done even way back then!
Last week, Lane asked Floyd to show his hands five times. This week, he simply drew his gun, within 15 seconds! He did so for no apparent reason.
You can look for this shaping of story to continue apace. Whatever the merits may be in this particular instance, this is the way our novelized news is frequently shaped and spun.
For extra credit only: In the paragraphs which follow the ones we've posted, Lane is rougher and cruder this week.
This week, he seems to do everything wrong, and he curses. Last week, he almost seemed kind.
There may be reasons for those changes. We'll only note that this narrative-driven story-shaping is hardly unknown. The novelized story on which the press corps eventually settles gets massaged a great deal of the time.