Our press corps' astounding procedures: It will be interesting to track the discussion of the latest police shooting death.
When he was only the leading suspect in last Saturday night's shooting death in Portland, his identity was being reported by various conservative orgs.
On Monday and Tuesday nights, we saw his photograph on the largely unwatchable "cable news" show, Tucker Carlson Tonight. When we googled the topic on Wednesday, we saw his identity being discussed, but largely by conservative orgs.
The other team had been hearing about this guy; we liberals had largely been shielded. We were largely shielded even though the original reporting tracked to The Oregonian, Portland's biggest mainstream newspaper.
Yesterday, this very same leading suspect was shot and killed by police. We can't tell you if he committed the original shooting in question, or if so why he did.
Also, we can't tell you if the police behaved correctly in yesterday's fatal incident. That said, this is the start of the New York Times report on the subject—a report which is amazingly elegaic concerning the moral greatness of the man who was shot and killed:
GOLDEN ET AL. (9/4/20): Law enforcement agents shot and killed an antifa supporter on Thursday as they moved to arrest him in the fatal shooting of a right-wing activist who was part of a pro-Trump caravan in Portland, Ore., officials said.As the Times continues, its report makes Reinoehl sound like the greatest peacemaker on the planet since St. Francis fed all the birds. The news report by the Washington Post strikes us as a lot more balanced, a lot more informative, and a great deal less sanitized.
The suspect, Michael Forest Reinoehl, 48, was shot by officers from a federally led fugitive task force during the encounter in Washington State, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.
“Initial reports indicate the suspect produced a firearm, threatening the lives of law enforcement officers,” the Marshals Service said in a statement. “Task force members responded to the threat and struck the suspect who was pronounced dead at the scene.”
(The Times suggests that this gentle giant spent all his time breaking up fights. “He was literally a guardian angel,” one of his friends is quoted saying. "He sometimes ran into trouble, though," the Times at last concedes.)
At any rate, Michael Reinoehl, age 48, has now become the latest police shooting death. Was any police misconduct involved?
By normal standards of the press corps, no one would ever have asked.
Why would no one have asked? Consider again the fatal shooting of the late Bijan Ghaisar, age 25 at the time of his death.
Bijan Ghaisar was shot and killed in Washington's Virginia suburbs in November 2017. In a series of angry editorials, the Washington Post editorial board has referred to his death as a virtual "execution." The Post's most recent editorial on Ghaisar's shooting death, and on the subsequent "cover-up" by various agencies, was published just last month.
The Washington Post is a well-known national newspaper. Despite its ongoing efforts, the shooting death of Bijan Ghaisar has provoked exactly zero reporting or discussion within the national press.
With that in mind, we now report who this young decedent was within the current taxonomy of the upper-end national press corps. The leading authority on Ghaisar's life answers the question like this:
Bijan C. Ghaisar was born at Inova Fairfax Hospital in 1992 to Iranian immigrants. After graduating from Langley High School and Virginia Commonwealth University, he worked for his father's accounting firm in Tysons Corner, Virginia. He was single with no children and had no criminal record. He had attended a Buddhist temple and made a Facebook post opposing guns.Inova Fairfac Hospital is located in Falls Church, Virginia, just outside D.C. On that basis, this young man began his life as an American citizen. He grew up an American kid.
That said, his parents were Iranian immigrants. Many decedents with Middle Eastern roots are listed as "Other" in terms of race or ethnicity within the taxonomy of the Fatal Force site.
Ghaisar, though, is listed as "white." Either way, we've hit upon the taxonomic problem.
For good or for ill, our public discussions of police shooting deaths are ruled by an obvious principle:
Such shooting deaths will sometimes be widely discussed, as is completely appropriate. But they will only be reported / discussed if the decedent is black.
The late Bijan Ghaisar wasn't! Within the realm of the upper-end press corps, that means that his death—no matter how outrageous or irregular—wasn't going to be discussed on the national level.
It means that his death didn't matter. Nationally, his death disappeared.
We'll let you assess the morality of that obvious prevailing press practice. We'll let you assess the motives of the several million upper-end journalists who have agreed to play by those obvious rules.
Borrowing from Lyndon Johnson, a person can teach that morality flat or round. But we won't assess the morality here. Instead, we'll discuss one possible outcome of that prevailing press practice.
Once again, consider:
In the six months since Breonna Taylor was shot and killed, her death has produced a very large public discussion, as is completely appropriate. But when Dennis Wayne Tuttle and Rhogena Ann Nicholas were shot and killed the very same way in the previous year, their deaths produced zero national discussion.
When the late George Floyd was killed face down in the streets of Minneapolis, his death produced massive discussion, as it certainly should have. But when Tony Timpa died face down in the streets of Dallas, the national public heard crickets.
John Geer was shot and killed in the doorway of his house, standing there with his "hands up." The Post spent years attempting to start a discussion of this event. We'll let you take it from there!
For ourselves, we're inclined to think that the disappearing of those "other" deaths represents gruesome journalistic malpractice. In fairness, anthropologists keep telling us that this is pretty much the best our deeply flawed species can do.
Let's put aside these moral judgments and ask a different question. That question goes like this:
When one group of killings gets massive coverage, and all other killings are wholly ignored, is it possible that certain misperceptions might occur?
More to the point, we ask you this:
Is it possible that people may even get the impression that no one other than black people get shot and killed by police?
That would be a false impression, as some adepts already know. Adding Reinoehl to the mix, and correcting for three "Unknowns" in Wisconsin, the numbers at the Fatal Force site currently look like this:
People shot and killed by police officers in the U.S., 2015 to presentQuite a few whites and Hispanics also get shot and killed by police. That said, how many Asian-Americans have been shot and killed? How many Native Americans?
Other race or ethnicity: 218
Unknown race or ethnicity: 610
We can't answer your sensible questions! At the Washington Post's Fatal Force site, such people are listed as "Other."
A lot of people get shot and killed by police officers in the U.S. We'll repeat the points we feel we should make every day:
As far as we know, no police misconduct is involved in the bulk of such cases. Our nation is often said to be "awash in guns," and our large number of police shooting deaths stems, at least in part, from that part of our national culture.
Most of these deaths don't involve misconduct, but some quite plainly do. Is it possible that misperceptions may arise when our "journalists," such as they are, decide that they will only report and discuss such incidents if the decedent is black? Could people get a mistaken idea from that kind of press conduct?
Next week, our discussion of this matter will continue. Returning to the year 2012, we'll review the ways certain high-profile police/"vigilante" shooting deaths have been reported in the upper-end national "press corps."
In our view, the misreporting has been routine and vast. It would almost be a comical matter if the subject wasn't so important.
For today, we'll offer two points about the selective reporting of these incidents, in which one set of such deaths get widely reported and others get disappeared:
Concerning that possible survey: Large numbers of "white" people get shot and killed by police. We wonder how many citizens might be unaware of that fact.
We'd love to see a national survey concerning this question. Survey questions would have to be carefully constructed, but we wonder how many people might basically think that no white people ever get shot and killed by police.
We'll guess there would be quite a few such people. Serious misconceptions may arise when journalists play their reindeer games, as they so frequently do.
Reasons for that disproportion: Black people get shot and killed by police in numbers which are disproportionate to their share of the national population.
A lot of "others" get shot and killed too—but black people get shot and killed at the highest rate. To anyone but the most simple-minded, this raises an obvious question:
To what extent does this disproportion result from police misconduct? Also, to what extent might this disproportion result from behavior by a small subset of the black population?
How do we explain that disproportion? At present, our upper-end news orgs are devoted to the task of avoiding this obvious question.
Instead of exploring that question, they disappear the deaths of people like Ghaisar and Geer. After that, they sanitize the behavior of the decedents whose shooting deaths they do discuss.
In this way, they increase the impression that the police officers in question engaged in misconduct. Remember, though—according to major anthropologists, this is pretty much the best our "journalists" are able to do!
At least since 2012, our news orgs have been highly selective in the police shooting deaths they agree to report and discuss. And sad! Among the cases they do discuss, they routinely misstate, invent and disappear highly relevant facts.
Within this veil of tears, this passes for upper-end journalism. We would regard this as heinous behavior, except for that one saving grace:
We've been told that this is the best they can do. That said, how bad can it get?
Next week: In 2012, the era began with a flat misstatement of fact