...while reading this morning's Post: Marisa Iati is a "storyteller who taps into the pulse of local communities."
We know that because that's her self-description at her own web site. At that site, Iati also describes herself "a reporter on the General Assignment desk at The Washington Post, where I write about everything from prison violence to whether Catholics can eat the Impossible Burger during Lent."
We feel quite sure that Iati is also a good decent person. To position her within the annals of time, she's six year out of college (Notre Dame, class of 2014).
We feel sure sure that Marisa Iati is a good decent person. It's also true that we've long warned you about journalists who understand themselves to be tellers of stories rather than writers of news reports or news analyses.
Anthropologists routinely tell us that man [sic] has always been the story-telling animal. More specifically, these experts say that man [sic} has always been a teller of tribal tales—a creature wired to invent and repeat Standard Group Stories which serve the purposes, or reflect the beliefs, of some narrow group.
Our view? This morning, Iati is the lead reporter in one such (mammoth) undertaking in the Washington Post.
In print editions, it's the featured news report on the Post's front page. Inside the paper, the continuation of the "story" or the report devours two full pages, A12 and A13.
The report consists of an uncounted number of words stretching over 127 paragraphs. It's accompanied by four photographs and several graphics—and if we wanted to be judgmental, we'd call it a journalistic disgrace which is almost comically awful.
What makes this morning's ginormous news report almost comically awful? Consider the alleged topic of the report, as defined in its opening paragraphs:
IATI ET AL (9/8/20): After Louisville police fatally shot 26-year-old Breonna Taylor during a nighttime raid at her home in March, her killing could have been just another in a long line of deadly police shootings of women that have drawn little publicity.According to those opening paragraphs, this morning's report focuses on a "consistent subset of people fatally shot by police—women." It starts with the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, then pretends to move on from there to discuss the fatal shooting of women in general.
But the death of Taylor, who was Black, fell between two high-profile killings of Black men. In February, a retired police detective, his son and a third man allegedly killed Ahmaud Arbery, 25, in a Georgia suburb. In May, a Minneapolis police officer knelt for nearly eight minutes on the neck of 46-year-old George Floyd, fatally injuring him.
Taylor’s name has become a rallying cry—#SayHerName—for policing overhauls and racial justice nationwide. Her image is on magazine covers, her name emblazoned on WNBA uniforms and more than five months later, protests over her death continue in Louisville. Her killing has brought into focus an often overlooked but consistent subset of people fatally shot by police—women.
In paragraph 4, the reader is told that women are fatally shot by police much less often than men. Here is the passage in question:
IATI (continuing directly): Since The Washington Post began tracking fatal shootings by police in 2015, officers have fatally shot 247 women out of the more than 5,600 people killed overall.In short, women are only 4.4% of the people fatally shot by police. If readers make it all the way to paragraph 55, they'll see the breakdown by race/ethnicity:
IATI: By race, 147 of the women killed were White, 48 Black and 29 Hispanic. Five were Native American, four were Asian and three were other races. In 11 cases, race could not be determined.Those numbers all come directly from the Washington Post's Fatal Force site. Just in terms of raw numbers, for every black woman shot and killed by police, the Post has found three corresponding white women.
(The three women of "other races" all seem to have been women of Middle Eastern ancestry. The Fatal Force site has been disinclined to name a specific "race" or ethnicity for people of such ancestry.)
At any rate, Iati starts by telling us that she'e exploring the topic of women shot and killed by police, full stop. If you read all the way to paragraph 55, you learn that this involves three times as many white decedents as compared to black decedents.
Adjusting for population, a higher proportion of black women are killed. But in absolute numbers, three times as many white women are killed.
Three times as many white women get killed--unless you consider the seven women whose specific cases Iati discusses. The roll call of those cases looks like this:
Women decedents whose cases are discussed in today's report:Those are the seven cases Iati specifically discusses. Meanwhile, here comes the racial breakdown:
Breonna Taylor, age 26
Alteria Woods, 21
India Kager, 27
Geraldine Townsend, 72
Rogena Nicholas, 58
DeCynthia Clements, 34
Hannah Williams, 17
Only Nicholas is described as white in Iati's report. Williams is described as multiracial; the other five women are all described as black.
At this point, we summarize, while provisionally rolling our eyes:
Of the 236 female decedents whose race or ethnicity is known, 62.3% were white. (20.3% were black.)
But of the seven cases Iati discusses, only one is said to have been white—and you have to read to paragraph 76 before that discussion occurs.
Meanwhile, Iati tells us that Hannah Williams "was described by her father as multiracial." That may well be true, but the Fatal Force site from which she accepts all the rest of her information lists Williams as white. (For more on this case, see below.)
Long story short:
The Post is presenting yet another report about fatal shootings by police in which the decedents are people of color.
In many such reports, no white decedents need apply. In today's report, one white decedent was accepted.
It's possible that a newspaper could do a valuable report about fatal shootings by police in which the decedents were all black women. In this case, the Post has produced yet another report which may tend to reinforce a mistaken impression—the impression that police shoot and kill only, or almost only, people who are black.
(As we've noted in the past, we'll guess that that misperception is quite widespread. In our view, reports like this play an active role in advancing that misperception about this highly important topic.)
Beyond that, this morning's report frequently comes to us live and direct from Clown School. Along the way, These Police Stereotypes Today are comically featured, especially in the sub-section which is headlined, "Why fewer women are killed:"
IATI: Why fewer women are killedIn the hands of upper-end journalists. These Experts Today never quit! In Iati's hands, we learn that "police stereotypes about gender" may help explain why so many fewer women get shot and killed.
The Post began tracking fatal police shootings in a database in January 2015, months after a White police officer in Ferguson, Mo., killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man during a confrontation. Since then, police have shot and killed about 1,000 people a year.
The starkest difference between women and men is the rate: Women account for about half the population, but 4 percent of the killings. Of those fatally shot every year, about 44 have been women.
That difference may be explained in part by broader patterns in criminal justice regarding contact with law enforcement and police stereotypes about gender, experts said. Women in the United States account for about one-fourth of all arrests, according to FBI data.
Lawrence Sherman, director of the University of Cambridge’s Police Executive Program and the Cambridge Center for Evidence-Based Policing, agreed that police may feel less threatened by women. Police generally view men as more likely to commit homicides and carry guns, he said.
"Police generally view men as more likely to commit homicides," one expert apparently said. Journalistically speaking, you simply can't get dumber than that—or, of course, more scripted by prevailing Storyline.
This morning's report is awful. It pretends to span the globe looking for the fatal cases which most resemble Taylor's—and, by some roll of the dice, its findings keep coming up black.
The shooting death of Nicholas, which very close resembles the shooting death of Taylor, isn't allowed to intrude until most readers have quit.
(There's at least one clear difference between the two cases. Check to see what it is!)
The racial question concerning such fatal shootings goes something like this:
Blacks are shot and killed at a higher rate than whites. To what extent does that occur because of racial animus on the part of some police officers? To what extent might it occur because of different conduct, on average, among relatively minor elements of different racial groups?
In actual, competent news reporting, those would be blindingly obvious questions. It wouldn't be easy to answer those questions, but they'd be a good place to start.
It seems to us that the Post today is engaged in preapproved story-telling more than in competent news reporting. Once again, the numbers look like this:
Women fatally shot by police (Fatal Force site):Iati says she's "a storyteller." According to leading anthropologists, so is the whole human race!
Women fatally shot by police (Washington Post news report):
Tomorrow: Herbstreit wept
Concerning the late Hannah Williams: In Iati's report, Hannah Williams' father says that his late daughter had long struggled with severe mental illness, but seemed to be doing better shortly before she was killed.
Iati describes the highly irrational conduct which preceded the fatal shooting.
This tragic state of affairs is involved in a large percentage of police shootings. Meanwhile, to see the New York Times at work (or at play), you can just click here.
In real time, knowing little, the Times piled atop the theme that the police keep shooting people for no known reason. In the Times, Williams' parents were quoted saying they just can't figure it out:
"Hannah’s parents, however, cannot reconcile the news with the daughter they knew, who this summer started her first job as a lifeguard at a theme park, Knott’s Berry Farm; had been voted captain of her soccer team at Magnolia High School; and liked volunteering at events to support veterans."
According to experts, the human race is war-inclined and devoted to the proposition that tribal stories must be concocted and repeated. That's true of our own tribe's greatesdt newspapers, which are devoted to "storytelling" to an enormous extent.