The New York Times Assassinates Michael Brown
Above: The family of Michael Brown, including his father Michael Brown, Sr. (center) watches as his vault is lowered into the ground at St. Peter’s Cemetery. Photo by Robert Cohen.
“The result is justification for racist murder.”
Eighteen year old Michael Brown man was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014. Because the people of Ferguson rose up in protest, his death did not disappear as is often the case with black victims of police violence. Newspapers and television networks from all over the world cover the continuing protests as a grand jury deliberates Wilson’s fate.
The coverage has varied greatly in quality, with the New York Times faring the worst among the major corporate media outlets. The Times alternately casts aspersions on Brown’s character and relies on law enforcement leaks which make it appear that Wilson acted appropriately when he shot a fleeing, unarmed young man. The result is justification for racist murder.
One of the newspaper’s African American reporters, John Eligon, began a profile of Brown by stating that he was “no angel” who performed “vulgar” rap music lyrics, “dabbled in drugs and alcohol” and got into scuffles. Even the Times public editor conceded that the words “no angel” were “a regrettable mistake.” In another profile, Wilson was called “well mannered”, “relatively soft spoken” and “bland.” There was no mention of his musical tastes or recreational activities, and no judgments made about his character.
But the worst case scenario has happened not once, but twice with New York Times reporters reporting law enforcement leaks as if they are factual and making the case that Wilson was justified in shooting Brown. An August 19, 2014 Times headline claimed that eyewitnesses to the shooting gave accounts which conflicted with another and which also implied Brown threatened Wilson after he fled.
That headline is easily proven to be untrue. Every witness to the shooting has been consistent. All say that Brown and Wilson had a physical altercation through the patrol car window. They all say that a shot or shots were fired inside the car. They all say that Brown fled while Wilson continued to shoot at him. They all say that Brown turned towards Wilson while already wounded and that Wilson continued to shoot him as he fell. One bullet struck Brown in the top of his skull and another in one of his eyes.
“The Times headline claimed that eyewitnesses to the shooting gave accounts which conflicted with anotherand which also implied Brown threatened Wilson after he fled.”
These accounts and Brown’s autopsy were all public by the time the August article appeared. Witnesses spoke on air to MSNBC and CNN and to the New York Times as well. It should not have been difficult to give a clear and accurate account of their words. There was a justifiable uproar over this story which led to the Times public editor again agreeing with critics because reporters made claims they couldn’t verify and that they didn’t emphasize enough their reliance on interested parties.
Did reporters Frances Robles and Michael S. Schmidt speak to Wilson, Wilson’s attorney, the Ferguson police department, the justice department, local prosecutors, or all of the above? MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell gave this assessment of the Times article. “Good police reporters know when they’re being used by the police. Bad police reporters also know when they’re being used by the police but they eagerly report whatever the police want them to report.”
Not content to happily be used in the cause of injustice, on October 17, 2014 reporters Michael S. Schmidt, Matt Apuzzo and Julie Bosman continued to flack in Darren Wilson’s interest. This time they repeat Wilson’s account without analysis or the information already made public which casts doubt on his story. According to the Times, Wilson says he believed his life was in danger as he and Brown struggled in the patrol car. It isn’t news that Wilson and Brown struggled, nor is it newsworthy that the officer would claim to feel endangered. But the story made it appear that the old information was new, and didn’t make it clear that Wilson fired ten more shots after Brown fled.
The net effect of the pro-Wilson bias is very simple. Schmidt, Apuzzo and Bosman conclude erroneously that there will be a “high bar” in proving a federal civil rights case against Wilson. That statement is highly debatable but it is now more likely to be true because the most powerful newspaper in the country says that it is true. Journalist Milton Allimadi points out the obvious. “Pre-attacking the federal case is the strategy. That’s why the Times is being fed the information, which upon careful analyses, are not as impactful as Wilson’s supporters believe and the Times’ story implies.”
“Reporters made claims they couldn’t verify and that they didn’t emphasize enough their reliance on interested parties.”
The Obama administration has no interest in taking on the civil rights violations committed by police and vigilantes across the country. They may invite Trayvon Martin’s parents to the White House and show them off for effect, but they have made no effort to prosecute George Zimmerman, who is a free man. If the paper which represents the interests of the powerful says that Wilson was justified, then he will be called justified and Brown’s family will get no more justice than Martin’s did.
The Times is not alone in acting as Wilson’s defense team. As previously reported in Black Agenda Report,Charles Blow and Van Jones disgracefully made the case for Wilson on CNN and acted as a defense team for him and for all of white America. No one inside or outside of the New York Times should think they can get away with defending America’s injustice system without repercussion or comment.
The odds of the legal system bringing justice to Michael Brown’s family were always slim. They are even slimmer if the New York Times, the so-called paper of record, gives license to killer police officers. Already the poorly reported story is being repeated as gospel truth, and righteous anger is made to appear suspect.
Michael Brown was running away and already wounded when he was shot in the head and in the eye. Until the New York Times makes that clear their coverage is worthless journalistically and gives aid and comfort to American lynch law, which has never been repealed.