Ferguson, Mo., is sadly back in the news. The city and an eager media anticipate a grand jury decision in the possible indictment of Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of an African-American teenager.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency Monday ahead of the grand jury's decision.
Earlier this month, Nixon tried to cool the situation, as reported NBC “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams. Heexplainedthat, “top officials there today [November 11] came out to say they are worried about trouble and asked for the news media`s help in appealing for calm.”
The media that for months have hyped the protests involving the shooting have been all but declaring the small city will soon become a battle zone.
CNN’s Carol Costello introduced one Nov. 13, story with typical moderation: “If the town explodes in unrestone female pastor says she willstand between police andprotesters appealing for calm.” Correspondent Sara Sidner followed with a prediction that violence would occur, claiming, “we do knowthere is a small group of peoplewho are planning violent acts.”
“We know that from talking forweeks now with the folks here on theground and there is a lot ofworry from the policestandpoint, from the residentsstandpoint, from the businessesstandpoint that there's going tobe real unrest here,” Sidner eagerly concluded.
Even when CNN’s media show “Reliable Sources” followed up on Sidner’s coverage, host Brian Stelter called Ferguson “a racial tinderbox of sorts.”
Viewers are right to think reporters are more than just bystanders in Ferguson. This month, the broadcast networks have done 17 stories mentioning Ferguson – several warning of disaster.
ABC “World News Tonight” let the words on screen tell the entire story. It led its segment with a graphic labeled “City On Edge.” That was followed by another with the words “Gun Sales Soar?” Not to be outdone, a third echoed the original theme and made it worse: “City On Edge: Ferguson Braces For The Worst.”
Either ABC producers can’t envision something genuinely “worst” or Ferguson could go all“Sim City”with disasters from meteors to UFOs.
Correspondent Steve Osunsami was just as terrifying with his report. “Businesses across Ferguson arepreparing for the worst, worriedthat if the grand jury fails toindict the police officer, thecity might burn,” he cautioned.He added gun sales up close to 300 percent “thanks to frightened families.”
CBS’s Michelle Miller was equally upbeat. “Talking to peopleacross this nation, they believethis is a powder keg waiting toexplode,” she said.
Ostensibly Miller was sitting down “withPastor Robert White at hischurch, along with a group ofothers committed to maintainingpeace in Ferguson.” One of several would be peacekeepers she talked to was Ronardo Ward. “We are getting prepared for war. And that’s just crazy,” he commented.
CBS St. Louis repurposed the interview and ran it under the headline:“Ferguson Resident: ‘We are Getting Prepared forWar.’”That cut out his comment about how such preparations are “crazy.” Not exactly the “calm” the governor was requesting.
Time magazine sounded the apocalyptic alarms.“Ferguson Braces for the Worst Ahead of Grand Jury Decision,”headlined its story. That same piece led with a classic scare quote. “‘You can literally see the fear in people’s eyes,’ says one area gun shop owner,” reported the Nov. 11 article.
The Daily Beast argued that people preparing to defend themselves would make matters worse. Caitlin Dickson cautioned that“Riot Prep Could Fuel Ferguson Violence,”and that the city “appears to be on the brink of chaos.”
Like most big stories, it wasn’t just what the news outlets covered that helped spin the story. It was what they didn’t. CBS’s Vinita Nair delivered some key information during an Oct. 31 news brief. “The Washington Post reports the Ferguson, Missouri police officer accused of fatally shooting unarmed teenager Michael Brown is not likely to face civil rights charges.”
She was following up on aPostreport from the same day. “Justice Department investigators have all but concluded they do not have a strong enough case to bring civil rights charges against Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., law enforcement officials said,” the article explained.
Only CBS mentioned those results.
The Ferguson case has hardly been a media highlight reel. NBC celebrated as race huckster Al Sharpton, a host from sister network MSNBC, rolled into Missouri. Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell claimed Sharpton was in Ferguson“on a peace mission.”No mention was made of hisanti-Semitismor theTawana Brawleycase. In the eyes of the media, Sharpton is a racial spokesman.
We can only hope and pray, with all the media hype we've seen, that when the grand jury renders its decision no one else will be killed.