Why is Media Coverage of Police Actions So Bad?

If you’ve followed any “mainstream” media coverage of the Occupy movement, especially related to incidents involving police, it should be overwhelmingly obvious to you that just about every story follows the same basic formula: First, some event involving police takes place. Second, and seemingly within moments, reporters rush to the nearest police employee handling “Communications” (or some other euphemistic variation of “PR”) and request officially-sanctioned comment on what occurred. Upon receiving this official comment, reporters often reprint it in the leads of their articles. All subsequent content is thereby framed in the context of a police narrative.

This poor reporting is manifestly a byproduct of the totally discredited “objectivity” brand of journalism, inculcated as it is in so many students who studied “journalism” or “communications” in college. Because they lack the ability or desire to really understand what’s going on with the Occupy movement, many mainline journalists prefer to stick with straightfoward, easily-digestible cops v. protesters storylines. Employing simple dichotomies makes reporting easy – you don’t even have to attend the event. Just make sure the police department’s resident PR specialist is on speed dial, and everything will be OK. Continue Reading →

Why Won’t the ASPCA Comment on the NYPD’s Cruel Treatment of Horses?

Over the course of reporting my story for The Nation on the NYPD’s Mounted Unit, I repeatedly attempted to contact the ASPCA — the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The APSCA has a “Humane Law Enforcement” division, which includes several members who were formerly part of the NYPD’s Mounted Unit.

As you might imagine, I thought these would be the perfect people to speak to about the events of October 15, in which officers on horseback intentionally rammed their animals into a crowd of demonstrators at Times Square. The famed bioethicist Peter Singer told me he regarded the use of horses in this manner to be “unethical,” and an equine behavior specialist told me one of the horses attempted to retreat rather than thrust into people. Continue Reading →

Can you help identify this NYPD official? Update: Identified!

UPDATE: This individual has been identified as Lt. Dan Albano, a top lawyer in the NYPD Legal Affairs Bureau.

I first encountered this NYPD official on October 8, near the perimeter of Washington Square Park. He was conferencing with a number of other plain-clothes officials, presumably in preparation for that day’s Occupy Wall Street march, which had left from Liberty Plaza and was headed towards the park. When I asked this man if he was with the NYPD, he replied — derisively, of course — “I’m the plumber.”

According to NYPD patrol guide procedure 203-09 (PDF), effective June 27, 2003, all “members of the service” are required to “Courteously and clearly state [their] rank, name, shield number and command, or otherwise provide them, to anyone who requests [they] do so. [They also must] allow the person ample time to note this information.” Continue Reading →

Why is #OWS different than the Tea Party movement?

Wow — for so many reasons. Occupy Wall Street might be the most grassroots-oriented thing I’ve ever seen. Here’s a great, concise explanation from a commenter on my dispatch for Reason:

Also: no, this is not the Tea Party. Some ways you can tell: no central core, no phone banks, no professional PR, no wall-to-wall media coverage, no town hall sabotage, no guns, no fundraising, no astroturf, no misspelled signs, no giant portfolio of suddenly appearing professionally executed websites, no Hitler mustaches, no mau-mau images, no screaming about Medicare being a government handout from the pilot seat of a Medicare Rascal scooter, no Congressional caucus (yet), no endemic fiscal and civic illiteracy and not a wing of the Democrats by any stretch.

Instead, it is a giant fuck you to everyone who believes the economic engine of capitalism should get everything it wants. This is thousands of people who loudly reject the retarded idea that there is no such thing as a society.

Yup, essentially.

Anthony Bologna: A National Disgrace

Look at that menacing, vulgar smirk on the face of Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna as he indiscriminately pepper-sprays peaceful protesters who are complying with his order to turn around and walk away — and who comply even though they’re merely demonstrating on a public sidewalk, which is entirely lawful. Look at the sick way he derives pleasure from inflicting pain on others. In most civilized societies, this is known as sociopathic behavior, and yet when such behavior is exhibited by a high-ranking NYPD supervisor, his actions get spun away by PR-flacks as “appropriate” and “judicious.” Until more video comes out, that is.

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Brian Stelter and the Pathology of Objectivity

Last night, the New York Times’ Brian Stelter tweeted about the Occupy Wall Street protests, which have been ongoing for over a week now, but seemed to reach a tipping point yesterday. Stelter wrote, “2 hours ago Union Sq was the scene of an ugly battle btwn #OccupyWallSt protesters & police,” followed by a link to a YouTube video entitled “Occupy Wall Street Police Abuse.” The video depicts officers shoving and arresting protesters, as well as using some kind of makeshift orange net to corral them into a pen.

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Asking Questions About Religion of the Presidential Candidates

At GetReligion, Mollie Hemingway is so upset with outgoing New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller’s article on the GOP presidential candidates and their religious beliefs that she facetiously says the entire thing must be an exercise in satire. Keller’s column is so bad, Mollie writes, that “there must be some deeper meaning here.”

Mollie appears hostile to Keller from the outset, labeling him an “anti-Catholic.” Keller grew up in the faith, he says, but has since left it. On occasion, he’s made some fairly standard criticisms of the Vatican — similar to ones routinely raised by Catholic press. Mollie also evidently considers Keller’s throwaway description of himself as a “collapsed Catholic” to be in bad form. Very well.

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Partially Lamenting the Decline of Anonymous Commenting

Something makes me feel a bit rueful about Ben Smith’s decision to change his blog’s commenting policy. Now, everyone who wishes to participate must sign in with a Facebook profile — eliminating much of the freewheelin’ anonymity that helped make its comment section so interesting and, just as often, exhausting to read.

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A Journalism Student’s Last Gasp

I tweeted earlier this week — “Ever notice how journalists most despondent about the future are always strong proponents of the “inverted pyramid”?

It was in reference to a comment I came across on Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist blog. Hemant read my article in The Nation arguing that journalism education suffers from a few insurmountable conceptual problems. He shared some thoughts of his own, which are worth reading.

This is the comment, though, by one “PsiCop,” that particularly struck me. He writes:

It’s true that J-school is not strictly necessary in order to become a good reporter or editor. But there’s value — or there should be — in learning about journalism, in honing one’s writing, in learning how to conduct research, learning how to confirm one’s findings, learning how to write objectively, etc.

A very particular kind of journalism has been granted academic legitimacy by these institutions, and it’s exactly the one that sees its future fortunes dwindling. The Internet is progressively destroying the idea — if it ever really even existed — that formalized journalism education is a tenable project. If your idea of becoming a professional journalist was to trudge through the traditional routes described on college promotional material, then yes, you’re fairly likely to feel a sense of despondence right now. But doesn’t that say it all? Continue Reading →

The Broder/Todd Worldview

Even if he hadn’t died last week, critiquing David Broder has always felt slightly superfluous. Almost lazy. The consensus-building model of journalism has lots of manifestations, most of which are far more subtle (and therefore insidious) than the archetype himself, so zeroing in on Broder is akin to using Cosmo Girl magazine as your primary evidence for the societal objectification of females. Branch out, you know?

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