MONDAY, MAY 3, 2021
Friedersdorf fights Storyline: A very unfortunate news report appears in this morning's Washington Post.
In print editions, the news report begins as shown. We include the principal headline:
Girl shot in D.C. was visiting family
Her mother had told 7-year-old Reagan Grimes she couldn’t go to the playground because it was too far from the residence they were visiting in Northeast Washington.
Dashawn Grimes wanted to keep her daughter in eyesight.
So Saturday evening, she let Reagan play on a porch in front of an apartment deep in a courtyard off Jay Street, where she could watch her while grilling hot dogs for dinner.
Reagan, a second-grader visiting from Maryland, rushed inside and excitedly announced, “I made a new best friend.” She then ran back out into the warm Saturday evening, dressed in a pink top and jeans, as gunfire erupted.
Reagan was struck in the chest by a bullet shortly before 7 p.m. and taken to a hospital in critical condition, police said. Grimes said the bullet passed through her daughter’s body, missing major organs.
That's how the news report began. It continues at length from there.
Luckily, this little girl wasn't shot and killed. She's expected to make a full recovery, to the extent that there is such a thing.
Also, she wasn't shot by a police officer. She was apparently struck by gunfire from a passing white car.
For those reasons, this shooting incident isn't going to rate a lot of attention. That's where Conor Friedersdorf's new report comes in.
Friedersdorf doesn't write from Storyline and he doesn't recycle script. He doesn't engage in those behaviors at The Atlantic.
His new report concerns the way the public may be getting misinformed and misled about the shooting deaths of children and teens. Specifically, his pair of headlines say this:
The Numbers Tell a Different Story About Police Killings of Minors
Exaggerated narratives could yield misguided policy responses—which would endanger many more kids.
Much longer story short:
Friedersdorf says the public is being misinformed by the way our mainstream news orgs cover fatal shootings by police—especially fatal shootings of minors.
In Friedersdorf's rendering, our news orgs place gigantic stress on these rare events. In the process, they ignore the voluminous other ways children and teens get killed.
For the record, everyone knows why our news orgs are currently doing this:
They're working from (cartoonized) Storyline. At present, they're especially drawn to Storyline in which white police officers shoot and kill black minors. No other dead minors need apply!
Friedersdorf is perhaps a bit too polite to say such things. But after he describes a few cases in which minors were shot and killed by police officers, here is a but of his nugget:
FRIEDERSDORF (5/2/21): All of these cases are tragedies. All raise the question of what, if anything, adults should have done to prevent them. But most news coverage of these killings lacks vital context to inform good answers. Many Americans are misinformed about the dimensions of this problem––and are prone to accept disturbing but false narratives, such as that police officers in America hunt and kill Black children, or radical remedies, such as defunding or abolishing the police in the name of protecting children. The wrong solutions might well result in the deaths of more children from causes other than police killings.
"Many Americans are misinformed about the dimensions of this problem?" Translating from Friedersdorf's lengthy piece, many people may be getting the impression—due to selective press coverage—that black kids are getting shot and killed by police all the time.
In fact, these shooting deaths are quite rare, Friedersdorf rudely says. Along the way, he offers these data about actual underage deaths:
FRIEDERSDORF: [D]ata show that police shootings are not among the most frequent causes of death for children, even setting aside medical conditions such as cancer. In 2016, the most recent year for which I could find detailed statistics, 16 minors were shot and killed by police. These were among the other causes of death for people under 18:
Gun homicides: 1,865
Gun suicides: 1,102
Gun accidents: 126
Sixteen fatal shootings by police. Almost two thousand fatal shootings by others—for example, by the type of person who shot, and luckily didn't kill, that 7-year-old in D.C.
At present, major media here in Our Town love the (cartoonized) Storyline in which young people get shot and killed by police officers.
(Full disclosure: They only discuss such shooting deaths if the decedent is black. Here's an astonishing but obvious fact—almost no one else need apply.)
It's hard to find the words for such selective reporting. Evil, ugly, stupid, banal? All such terms might apply.
What is especially ugly is the way Our Town's big stars skip past a certain type of shooting—the type in which a 7-year-old who just made a best friend gets shot as a car passes by.
What can police departments do to stop the high volume of such fatal and non-fatal shootings? Based on the types of discussions they conduct, Our Town's biggest stars don't care.
Here in Our Town, no one seems to care about such silly questions as that. Is it possible that Our Town's biggest stars are sunk in a type of banality? Are they banal all the way down? Is their universe all Storyline?
Also in this morning's Post: The following letter also appears in this morning's Post. It concerns the fatal shooting in 2017 of a young man named Bijan Ghaisar:
LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (5/3/21): Regarding the April 24 Metro article “Police killing moves to federal court”:
The Justice Department is looking into several police departments because of recent shootings of Black people and the departments’ practices. Why are officials not looking into the U.S. Park Police? Why has it taken so long for this case to be resolved?
Bijan Ghaisar’s car was rear-ended, and he left the scene. He was killed for this. At no point were the officers who shot him in danger. It appears they were just angry because he would not stay put after he was stopped. Why is no one protesting for Ghaisar or adding his name to the long list of people shot by police over traffic infractions?
Why are no news orgs doing such things, even after several years in which the Washington Post has doggedly covered this case?
Everybody understands why! There's zero mystery here.
People do end up badly misinformed when big news orgs behave in such ways. As a courtesy, we'd attribute this behavior in Our Town to the banality of tribal behavior, to Storyline all the way down.