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October 24, 2014

HOT BLAST: A media strategy to head off trouble

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Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2014 11:40 am

Among the avalanche of Ferguson-related commentary and analysis, one piece from last weekend stands out. Brooke Gladstone of NPR's On The Media program looked at six shootings of African-Americans over the past two years.

She quoted MSNBC report Trymaine Lee, who recent said:

Since the killing of Trayvon Martin, you’ve had the killing of Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida by someone who began an altercation with this young man over his loud music, fired into his car.  Renisha McBride case in Detroit, where a young woman showed up at someone’s doorstep and they fired a shotgun through a screen door and tore off half of her face. Jonathan Ferrell, in Charlotte North Carolina, he gets in a car accident, he shows up at someone’s door looking for help, she calls the police, they end up gunning this young man down again, again unarmed. Eric Garner, more recently in New York City, selling loose cigarettes, he died in a police choke-hold…. In each one of  these cases, there was a mass of media around it.

After detailing a media cycle, Gladstone concluded:

Let’s observe that the way these stories unspool, in real time and on social media and soon after everywhere else, mostly works to the benefit of all concerned. First, to those long-ignored communities that suddenly have a global opportunity to be heard. And to those outside, concerned with social justice. And to those news outlets that see ratings spike and less cynically, a chance for relevant, important coverage. But when we heard Trymaine’s list of the dead at the top of the show, he included one man who, you should pardon the expression, didn't fit the profile.  

Jonathan Ferrell, who knocked on a woman’s door in Charlotte, North Carolina last September seeking help after a car accident, prompting a panicked 911 call and ultimately his own death from a policeman’s gun. That story didn't go massively viral. Because here’s what happened the very next day..

    [CLIP]:

WOMAN ANNOUNCER: Tonight Chief Rodney Monroe solemnly answered the questions neighbors, friends of the victim and Channel 9 had about the shooting.

    [CLIP]:

WOMAN ANNOUNCER: Homicide investigators signed warrants for Officer Kerrick for the charge of voluntary manslaughter.

[MUSIC UP THEN DOWN]

BROOKE GLADSTONE: The chief made no attempt to justify what happened. And he gave the public a name: Office Randall Kerrick. Two days later, the PD released audio tapes of Kerrick speaking to the dispatcher. And now, after the state’s initial failure to indict Kerrick, he’s awaiting trial. To be sure, there’s no happy ending. But it was a reasonable start. Whether the shooter is an officer or a civilian, it’s police departments that ultimately determine how the story is told. This power to attract, or deflect the press is probably the most powerful weapon in their highly militarized arsenals. But they haven’t used it. Maybe it seems hard, maybe they haven’t seen the value. Maybe they will now.

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