You know what’s fucked up? Well, okay — a lot of things are fucked up. But one of the fucked uppedest things is network news reporting.
Yesterday evening I watched NBC Nightly News attempt to cover the recent report on law enforcement fatalities. The coverage resembled an actual news broadcast: great graphics, dramatic and energetic voices, engaging video, concerned frowns on the earnest faces of the reporters. But basically the report was a shit sandwich. The ‘reporting’ was accurate, but misleading. Here are some of the claims made:
“…an enormous jump from last year in the number of police killed in shooting incidents.”
“…a 56% increase in the number of police officers killed by gunfire in the last year.”
“…a growing anti-government sentiment may be triggering the attacks.”
Following that last comment, the report shifted to video of the recent protests over the number of police shooting incidents involving unarmed black men. The suggestion was pretty clear: anger at the police in the African-American community was responsible for the increase in police officer fatalities.
And right there, that’s the shit in the shit sandwich.
First, let me point out that the anti-police protests really aren’t anti-police protests; they’re anti-police-shooting-unarmed-black-folks protests. I think that needs to be stated pretty clearly. You can support the police and still be pissed off at them for killing folks who aren’t a threat.
Now, the meat of the story. Yesterday the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund released its preliminary annual report on officer fatalities. The data are reliable. One hundred twenty-six LEOs were killed while on duty this year. Fifty of them were killed by gunfire this year. That’s not in dispute.
But is that an ‘enormous jump’, as the news report claims? Well, yes and no. Last year 32 officers were killed by gunfire. So yeah — fifty is a big jump compared to thirty-two. But guess what. The average number of LEO deaths by gunfire over the last ten years is fifty-three. So no, it’s not really an enormous jump at all. It’s actually a wee bit below average. That got left out. So the news ‘report’ was accurate, but misleading.
The news ‘report’ also stressed that fifteen of the fifty LEOs who died by gunfire were killed in ‘ambush attacks.’ Although the term isn’t actually defined in the report, it appears they’re talking about incidents in which LEOs are murdered 1) simply because they’re law enforcement officers and 2) shot while they were unaware they were being targeted. And yeah, that’s pretty fucking alarming.
But here’s the problem: the ‘news’ account conflates ambush attacks with the protests against police violence. Why? On account of Ismaaiyl Brinsley. He’s the jackass who gut-shot his girlfriend in Baltimore, stole her cellphone, hopped on a bus to NYC, where he shot and killed two NYPD officers. Brinsley left messages on social media saying he was going to ‘put wings on pigs’ as some sort of idiotic revenge for the deaths of two unarmed black men killed by police officers in two different states. Yeah, maybe — but it seems more likely Brinsley just wanted to do something ‘big’ before he killed himself (he’d attempted suicide at least once before).
But based on that one ambush attack, the ‘news report’ hinted that anti-police anger is responsible for all fifteen officers who were killed in ambush attacks. That suggestion is absolute bullshit.
The reporters got one thing right, though. They cited the reports concern that “a growing anti-government sentiment may be triggering the attacks.” And that, folks, is a fact. Yes, it surely is.
But the ‘news report’ focused on black anti-government anger. The biggest threat to LEOs today doesn’t come from young black men who are pissed off because so many young black men are killed by police. The real threat to LEOs comes from white, well-armed, angry, right-wing, anti-government, sovereign citizen extremists who are pissed off because — well, they have a lot of irrational reasons for being pissed off. Something to do with the 14th Amendment, banking, taxes, and (I swear I’m not making this up) an amendment to the US Constitution proposed in 1810 dealing with (seriously, NOT making this up) titles of nobility.
I’m talking about people like Eric Frein, who set up an ambush outside a Pennsylvania State Police barracks, then murdered Cpl. Bryon Dickson as he walked out the door. He also seriously wounded another Trooper and fired on others as they tried to rescue Dickson. I’m talking about Curtis Holley, who set fire to the house he was renting, waited for the first responders to arrive, then opened fire. He killed Deputy Christopher L. Smith of the Leon County, Florida Sheriff’s Department. I’m talking about Jared and Amanda Miller. These two fuckwits actually strolled around the city of Las Vegas with a shopping cart full of weapons without drawing any police attention — at least not until they ambushed and killed two LVPD officers who were having lunch. Then they entered a nearby Wal-Mart and waited for more police to arrive.
And it’s not just ambush attacks. These sovereign citizens are also the biggest threat when it comes to traffic stops (eight of 2014’s line-of-duty fatalities occurred during traffic stops). Because they don’t believe they’re required to have license tags on their vehicles, sovereign citizens get stopped a lot. And because they also believe they have an absolute right to carry a firearm at all times, they’re generally well-armed — and know how to use their weapons. And because sovereign citizens are almost exclusively white, they’re less likely to be confronted for openly carrying weapons.
These guys are a serious threat. That’s not me talking; that’s the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. In their 2014 report they identified sovereign citizens as “law enforcement’s top concern.” Islamic extremists? Number two. In fact, four of the five top concerns were occupied by right-wing extremist groups. The FBI has labeled sovereign citizens as a domestic terror group.
So when you read or hear news reports about how anti-police protesters are a threat to the police, ignore that shit. When you read or hear news reports claiming anti-police protesters are stirring up anti-government sentiment, look at the people who are actively attacking the government. When you read or hear news reports how anti-police protesters have blood on their hands, look at who owns the guns and who’s doing the shooting.
The black kid playing with a toy gun in the park isn’t a threat. The black guy selling loose cigarettes on the street isn’t a threat. That white guy driving a pick-up without a proper license tag and a gun rack in the back? He’s the threat.
And you didn’t even mention the Cliven Bundy standoff where the right wing nutjobs openly put federal LEOs in their sights and threatened to kill them.
I suspect we’ll see more Cliven Bundy alumni involved in similar incidents. It was a magnet for Second Amendment nutcases.
Have to take pretty much everything in the media with a grain of salt; too often, their coverage is incomplete at best, and incorrect and biased at worst. Not to say there isn’t some fantastic journalism out there, but I frequently find myself asking – what is the rest of the story? Where’s the opposing argument? Thank goodness for the interwebs, I guess :)
I really think that journalism is rapidly become less about reporting the news and more about marketing and selling it. News editors (most of them, anyway) aren’t stupid. They have to be aware of this stuff. But when you have limited time on television, and when an important story first requires you to educate the audience, it’s just easier to release a ‘news’ report that’s accurate but misleading.
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