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Boardman writes: "The ONLY official eyewitness is Officer Wilson, who has not spoken publicly or to the Times. No other officer or official was an eyewitness, and all any of them can report on the event is hearsay, speculation, or conclusions from physical evidence."

Lesley McSpadden at the casket of her son Michael Brown at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, Missouri. (photo: Richard Perry/Reuters)
Lesley McSpadden at the casket of her son Michael Brown at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, Missouri. (photo: Richard Perry/Reuters)

NY Times' Dishonesty on Ferguson Called Out on MSNBC, and at Times

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

25 August 14


Editor, reporters caught pushing police version of Ferguson killing

he front page of The New York Times of August 20 carried the misleading headline "Shooting Accounts Differ" above a story datelined Ferguson, Mo. The "shooting" in question was the August 9 killing of unarmed college freshman Michael Brown, 18 and African-American, who was shot at least six times by six-year Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, 28 and white (a non-resident who lives in a 94% white community nearby).

The information in the Times story was hardly news, much less front page news. The essential story as reported by the Times was that Officer Wilson apparently has a self-serving version of events (as told by unnamed police investigators to the Times). That second hand story differs from several other accounts by identified eyewitnesses (although the Times omitted mention of the most credible of the presently known eyewitnesses). The Times does not mention that Officer Wilson and his anonymous defenders have a much clearer motive for shaping the story their way than any of the eyewitnesses (with one possible exception).

When the Times pimps for the official version of any story, close readers of the paper are not surprised. In this case, the Times has to work overtime on the official story for various reasons. The ONLY official eyewitness is Officer Wilson, who has not spoken publicly or to the Times. No other officer or official was an eyewitness, and all any of them can report on the event is hearsay, speculation, or conclusions from physical evidence. Perhaps the trickiest problem for the Times, in its adherence to the official story, is that officials keep changing what they say, and they continue to withhold key evidence, such as the relevant 911 tapes or the full county autopsy.

What is more surprising than the Times parroting each version of the official story is when such journalism-by-dictation is taken apart in a cogent, same-day, close analysis by a cable newscaster like Lawrence O'Donnell. And more surprising still is when that critical analysis is affirmed the next day by the Public Editor of the Times.

For the official story to work, officials need to attack the victim

The August 20 story (dated August 19 online) begins with the hearsay assertion that "witnesses have given investigators sharply conflicting accounts of the killing." What that apparently means in fact, the Times says four paragraphs later, is that:

The accounts of what witnesses have told local and federal law enforcement authorities come from some of those witnesses themselves, law enforcement authorities and others in Ferguson. Many spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a continuing investigation.

The Times names three eyewitnesses: Dorian Johnson, who accompanied Michael Brown and whose lawyer spoke for him, and two bystanders, Michael Brady and James McKnight. There are no sharp conflicts in their stories as reported by the Times (and elsewhere). There is hardly any difference in their version of an event that continues to look more like a police execution than anything else.

The Times does not name any of the official sources, who were not eyewitnesses. Nor does the Times quote any of these anonymous sources directly. And the Times does not clearly identify any specific detail that it considers "sharply conflicting" with known eyewitness accounts.

O'Donnell: "a terribly misleading, badly crafted story"

That's how Lawrence O'Donnell characterized the Times story on his MSNBC program "The Last Word" the same day the story appeared. O'Donnell went on to note that the Times didn't even mention the most credible eyewitness to emerge so far, "the star witness," Tiffany Mitchell, who then appeared in a long clip:

As I come around the corner, I hear tires squeaking. And as I get closer, I see Michael and the officer like wrestling through the window. Michael was pushing like trying to get away from the officer. And the officer was trying to pull him in.

As I pull out my phone, because it just didn't look (INAUDIBLE), you just never see an officer, someone just wrestling through the window. So, as I pulled out my phone, the first shot walls fired through the window. And I just like tried to get out the way. I pulled into the parking lot beside where the cop car was. And that's when Michael kind of broke away and started running down the street.

The officer gets out of his vehicle and he pursues him. As he's following him, he's shooting at him. And Michael's body jerks as if he was hit. Then he turned around and he puts his hands up. And the officer continues to walk up on him and shoot him until he goes all the way down to the ground.

Tiffany Mitchell's account of the killing has no "sharply conflicting" differences with the accounts of the eyewitnesses the Times chose to quote. As O'Donnell describes it, "The Times simply asserts in the first sentence that the accounts sharply conflict and then fails to demonstrate that. But that [opinion] is exactly what the police defenders of Officer Darren Wilson wanted the Times to print."

Officer Wilson committed a crime: using deadly force illegally

O'Donnell later turned to what he called "the most egregious passage" in the Times story. O'Donnell is familiar with unlawful police killing. In 1983, he published a book, "Deadly Force," with the subtitle: "The Wrongful Death of James Bouden Jr.: A True Story of How a Badge Can Become a License to Kill." The passage he calls egregious is just two sentences:

He [Michael Brady] said he did see a police officer get out of the patrol car and start walking briskly while firing on Mr. Brown as he fled. What happened next, that could be what the case turns on.

This editorializing is both stupid and wrong, O'Donnell argued, because: "the shots fired while Michael Brown is fleeing, those shots, that is an illegal use of deadly force. That is a crime. The police officer had no legal right to shoot at Michael Brown while he was fleeing." [emphasis added]

O'Donnell mocked the Times reporters and editors who didn't know that. And he mocked the Times for thinking that what happens after a crime is being committed might be what the case could turn on. And he attacked the Times for taking the word of unnamed law enforcement officials saying that "fearing that the teenager was going to attack him, the officer decided to use deadly force."

As O'Donnell makes clear, Officer Wilson started using deadly force as soon as he left the police car, and quite possibly while he was still it when a shot was fired. Worse than getting the law wrong, O'Donnell said, was the Times suggestion that there was any basis for even speculating that Michael Brown might have been about to attack, with several bullets already in his body. Of course Officer Wilson might claim that, but not one of the known eyewitnesses says that. Nevertheless, the Times claimed that, "Some witnesses have backed up that account." O'Donnell stopped short of calling that a lie, but he came close:

[The Times] does not produce or even refer to a single witness who backs up that account, not one. It just takes a leak from the police, and prints it as a fact.

Times editor: "The story is both fair and balanced"

On August 21, prompted by a number of comments from readers, the Times' public editor, Margaret Sullivan, weighed in on the story and O'Donnell's critique of it. As the Times describes the public editor's job, she "investigates matters of journalistic integrity ... works independently, outside of the reporting and editing structure of the newspaper; her opinions are her own."

Sullivan chose not to address O'Donnell's critique of the Times' fallacious reasoning, but supported his analysis that what the named witnesses said was not rebutted by any "sharply conflicting accounts" from any anonymous sources. The public editor concluded that:

this article doesn't measure up....The Times is asking readers to trust its sourcing, without nearly enough specificity or detail; and it sets up an apparently equal dichotomy between named eyewitnesses on one hand and ghosts on the other.

Along the way, Sullivan quoted the story's editor, James Dao, defending the story, without actually addressing the substantive issues. Dao calls the story "fair and balanced," and also tacitly admits that its bias is toward the official version. Dao says the story "gives some insight into how law enforcement is viewing this case – this is what they say they've got."

He does not explain why the anonymous police view was presented so uncritically and, in part, with uncorrected inaccuracies.

The Times posted Sullivan's piece on the public editor's blog. The editors did not choose to run it in the print edition.

Times editors continue promoting the official story uncritically

The same day the public editor commented on her blog, the Times editorial board published a lead editorial calling for "A Fair Inquiry for Michael Brown," which is a far from universal desire. But in the course of a fundamentally reasonable call for fairness and "something useful," the editorial accepts as fact its paper's published and unsupported claim that: "Witness accounts differ sharply ..."

Official bias has been patently obvious in the anonymous police claims and the selective police attempts at character assassination of Michael Brown through selective leaks. The Times reported some of these leaks uncritically as "what they say they've got." By contrast, the Times has examined eyewitness accounts more carefully, except when it has omitted them entirely.

With no trace of irony, the Times editorial says that "those in charge have an obligation to demonstrate fairness at every step, and that means there cannot be even a hint of bias in the process." That's hard to argue with, but it also raises the question of whether these people read their own newspaper carefully.

What the public editor and the editorial board are saying seems to have had limited, if any, impact on the Times coverage of the Ferguson killing. In the midst a wide range of reporting on many other aspects of the story, the Times newsroom continues to give significant play to pieces supporting the official story of the shooting, sometimes subtly, generally uncritically.

Curiously, the Times story of August 20 includes an assertion that does in fact sharply conflict with the accounts of named eyewitnesses. O'Donnell and Sullivan don't mention it, but the second paragraph of the front page Times piece says:

Some of the accounts seem to agree on how the fatal altercation initially unfolded: with a struggle between the officer, Darren Wilson, and the teenager, Michael Brown. Officer Wilson was inside his patrol car at the time, while Mr. Brown, who was unarmed, was leaning in through an open window.

It is simply not true that any of the known eyewitnesses have said that Michael Brown "was leaning through an open window" of Officer Wilson's cruiser. The accounts all describe some kind of physical struggle at the window, or outside it. Only the Times puts the victim inside the cruiser, which, if true, would seem to make Officer Wilson's lethal behavior more understandable if not more legal. Where does the Times get this "leaning in through an open window" that it asserts as if it were undisputed fact. The Times doesn't say. But it's not a fact. It is disputed.

McCullough: no charges when police kill two unarmed black men

In a front page piece on August 22, the Times uses anonymous sources again to lower expectations of a conclusive federal investigation, a result that would likely please Ferguson officials. The same article repeats the discredited "conflicting accounts" version of what the eyewitness have to say. And the story includes the "leaning in through an open window" canard, still without attribution. The most likely source would be Officer Wilson.

This Times story also misrepresents objections to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCullough, who has been petitioned by more than 70,000 people to recuse himself from the case. McCullough is widely distrusted by the African-American community in Ferguson. One reason is a case in 2000 when two police officers fired 21 bullets into a car, killing two unarmed black men – after which McCullough brought no charges. The Times doesn't mention this or any other relevant case, explaining away calls for the prosecutor's recusal by saying only: "Some have called for Mr. McCulloch to recuse himself from the case since his parents worked for the St. Louis police and his father was shot and killed by a black man."

The Times' August 23 front page story on Ferguson – headlined: "Key Factor in Police Shootings: 'Reasonable Fear'" – spins not so subtly toward the idea that Officer Wilson, sitting in his cruiser as Michael Brown ran away, felt reasonable fear for his life, and that justified his chasing and executing him. That moment sitting in the cruiser is when O'Donnell says Officer Wilson chose to commit a crime.

The Times chooses not to frame the question that way, or even mention that particular moment of decision for Officer Wilson. Most of the Times piece is largely irrelevant, abstract theorizing and speculation about police rules of engagement, as laid out by the Supreme Court and other sources, with no direct application to Officer Wilson's killing Michael Brown. When the Times did mention the specific case, it provided a summary of the official version that included new claims of hitting the officer in the face and trying to take his gun:

Ferguson police officials have said Mr. Brown and a friend were walking in the street when Officer Wilson stopped them. In an ensuing struggle, they said, Officer Wilson was hit in the face and Mr. Brown tried to take his gun, which discharged. Later, Officer Wilson shot Mr. Brown six times as the two men faced each other.

How long is an OK time for leaving a dead body in the street?

"Timeline for a Body: 4 Hours in the Middle of a Ferguson Street" is the headline on the August 24 front page Times story about the killing. This is yet another apologia for police behavior, reinforcing the official storyline that everything the police did was maybe sad but totally justified. With remarkable callousness, the Times offers a perspective redolent with the subtext of a hidden agenda:

Mr. Brown probably could not have been revived, and the time that his body lay in the street may ultimately have no bearing on the investigations into whether the shooting was justified. But local officials say that the image of Mr. Brown's corpse in the open set the scene for what would become a combustible worldwide story of police tactics and race in America, and left some of the officials asking why.

This is morally obtuse and factually insupportable. The Times uses blind quotes to raise questions no identifiable person is asking: Who says Michael Brown could not have been revived? Who asked what bearing this grisly four-hour display would have on investigations? And what local officials think leaving the body out in the August sun had "set the scene" for anything?

It was the killing that set the scene. Why is that not obvious? The one official the Times identifies gets it right. Committeewoman Patricia Bynes says, "The delay helped fuel the outrage.... It was very disrespectful to the community and the people who live there.It also sent the message from law enforcement that 'we can do this to you any day, any time, in broad daylight, and there's nothing you can do about it.'"

And the Times, with its long, detailed, cold exegesis of how the officials involved went about desecrating this dead black 18-year-old sends a message, too. It's an old, familiar, awful and shameful message: Americans don't care about black people.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+20 # oprichniki 2014-08-25 17:47
All the news that fits the print. What don't you understand?
+23 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2014-08-25 20:24
A really great science book was published several decades ago. Maybe you read the book? "In Search Of Schroedinger's Cat." John Lennon, the late great musical artists wrote 1/2 of the forward-three words:"Nothing is real." Later, John Gribben, the author amplified Lennon's statement. "Nothing is real unless it is observed." I remember the Rodney King video and in which video we were prompted by "experts" to "not see what we saw."
+17 # Adoregon 2014-08-26 11:57
Say, isn't this the same New York Times that was the uncritical cheerleader for the Bush-Cheney decision to invade Iraq?

Did not the NYT uncritically endorse the aluminum tubes, yellowcake uranium and WMDs that Ms. Rice, Mr. Rumsfeld, and (unfortunately) Colin Powell held up as justification for the invasion?

The New York Times is no longer a publication to be trusted. They are a tool of the status quo. They are neither independent nor rigorous.

Ignore the NYT just as you would igore Fox (Faux) News.
+2 # lorenbliss 2014-08-29 00:44
Obviously, the policy at The Times is to cover the Middle West the same way it covers the Middle East: that is, by acting as the imperial mouthpiece. And since The Times truly is the voice of the Ruling Class, we now know the Ruling Class has nothing but contempt for minority rights in the homeland -- in other words, the same contempt it has always had for human rights abroad.
+73 # Jackiet 2014-08-25 17:59
whenever people tell me that the NYTimes is a left-wing newspaper, I just giggle and figure I am taking to an idiot..
+24 # ericlipps 2014-08-25 18:04
Quoting Jackiet:
whenever people tell me that the NYTimes is a left-wing newspaper, I just giggle and figure I am taking to an idiot..

Of course, it all depends on your perspective. the folks who say that tend to be the sort who think Richard Nixon was a bit of a pinko.
+29 # Anarchist 23 2014-08-25 20:54
ericlipps: Back then in the Watergate years, the NY Times was a bit more real! So was the Congress for that matter!
+5 # bmiluski 2014-08-26 15:23
Back then the Koch Bros. didn't own as much.
+20 # Texan 4 Peace 2014-08-25 18:44
The only thing I object to in this story is the last line: "Americans don't care about black people." It seems to suggest those two categories are mutually exclusive.
+5 # The Skeptical Cynic 2014-08-25 22:34
An exquisitely succinct manifestation of perspicacity and perspicuity.
+12 # DaveM 2014-08-25 22:45
Very good point. Americans come in all shapes, sizes, and skin colors. Americans, one and all. There are no different degrees.
+9 # WBoardman 2014-08-26 09:34
Texan 4 Peace may be misreading
the end of the piece.

"Americans don't care about black people"
is only PART of the last line which, as written,
is saying that THAT is the "awful and shameful" message
that the Times is sending.

There is no dispute that "Americans" are diverse
in almost infinite ways.

But there should be little dispute thatAmerican policy
as carried out by governments large and small,
is varyingly antipathetic to most American minorities.

The Times is somewhat schizophrenic on this, no?
+48 # daleaxelrod 2014-08-25 18:50
This tragedy to the community — and the police force — will be repeated as long as there is no accountability. And you will not get that until our society wakes up and demands reasonable, citizen oversight over law enforcement policies and procedures, including the the content and frequency of officer training, and appropriate use of force. The police will never, ever, ever police themselves — besides being futile, you risk your career, if not your life, in reporting a fellow officer's illegal behavior, or perceived criminal predispositions , or prejudices. If I were a young person considering the challenging career of law enforcement, I would make sure the force I was joining had an effective program of community monitoring and engagement. Maybe that would attract more competent personnel to work alongside of.
+27 # dyannne 2014-08-25 20:00
The police will never, ever, ever police themselves — besides being futile, you risk your career, if not your life, in reporting a fellow ohttp://readers upportednews.or g/opinion2/277- 75/25515-focus- ny-times-dishon esty-on-ferguso n-called-out-on -msnbc-and-at-t imes#fficer's illegal behavior, or perceived criminal predispositions , .......... and that's why cameras should be mounted on every police car and cop, with no off switch on the cam.
+41 # dick 2014-08-25 19:06
The Times has been a propaganda machine for a long, long, time. A commentator above cleverly ties NYT to "pinko" Nixon, but the Times really was a Nixon defender, refusing to investigate Watergate, then downplaying W&B, BB & KG at the Post. Paper of record my ass. Record Liar is more like it. NYTimes also originally refused to report on some of the worst DOCUMENTED US atrocities in VN. They are Big Brother's more clever side, & racist as hell. You go, Lawrence!
+18 # dyannne 2014-08-25 20:01
The only thing i look at in the NY Times is the crossword puzzle.
+9 # jsonix 2014-08-25 21:01
And the Science Times on Tuesdays.

I didn't even realize Rupert Murdoch had purchased the NY Times.
+3 # jsonix 2014-08-25 21:01
And the Science Times on Tuesdays.

I didn't even realize Rupert Murdoch had purchased the NY Times.
+18 # motamanx 2014-08-25 22:38
It seems that the NYT is defending its coverage DESPITE getting the facts wong. That is the real tragedy as far as media coverage goes. Officer Wilson should face criminal charges.
+15 # Floe 2014-08-26 01:07
I'm not sure how low the bar must go but it's plain that the police generally and particularly in this case (Darren Wilson)are nothing but savages with guns. What has the police been recruiting? When do we hear of someone being accountable? A cop is supposed to be a protector of the community, how often do we see that happen? From top to bottom, "law enforcement" is rotten. They are sick, mentally unstable and they need rehabilitation. But why we don't see it, why we accept it, is beyond me. You can tell just by Wilson's attitude not to mention the attitude of the department, that they have no compassion, no humanity. And we let them have guns.
+14 # John S. Browne 2014-08-26 01:27

Thank you, William Boardman, for so precisely and with such great specificity showing-up the mainstream line for what it is, nothing but biased support for the official story; which, of course, is as usual being made up by the police involved, as they go along; with a great deal of help in doing so by the mainstream media as well. We're supposed to believe, against all better judgment, that the police investigating themselves is supposedly coming up with an unbiased and accurate version of events; when, in reality, they almost always protect their own no matter how much their fellow-officers were at fault, cover-up the true facts of that matter, lie through their teeth, and whitewash their culpability.

The Times and the rest of the mainstream media that are parroting this representation of the story, are aiding and abetting the foregoing, and the obstruction of justice in the matter; and, of course, they do this with impunity. We need to realize and understand just how serious this is. The mainstream media, particularly the Times in this case, is helping make certain that no True Justice is had in the matter; and that, yet again, murder by police is gotten away with and sees no accountability whatsoever, or no real accountability whatsoever anyway, thus sending the unmistakable message to "law enforcement" that they can do it more and more, and never be held responsible for it.

+11 # John S. Browne 2014-08-26 01:28

This is madness that is increasingly turning this country and its "governance" into a mass-murder- ous tyranny that knows no bounds, making all of us less and less safe at the hands of, and under greater and greater threat by, its policing authorities on all levels; i.e., local, state and federal.

+11 # fdawei 2014-08-26 06:19
NYT. Not fit to wrap your dead fish.
+11 # lellisam 2014-08-26 07:41
There was a piece here on RSN a few days ago and the gist of it was that Ferguson is about race,yes but just as importantly it is about the coming class war. The victim and the officer are not so different in that they (and most of us Americans) are part of the growing divide between the haves and have nots. This seperation of people into camps either for the victim or for the officer is frightening to me. If the small ruling elite can keep us fighting each other what energy do we have to left to fight them? We are not each other's bogey man we are,as Americans with a common goal,each other's best chance for restoring some sense of fairness and democracy to America.
+5 # riverhouse 2014-08-26 14:37
The NY Times is dishonest about so many things these days. I used to be a subscriber and read it daily but no more. It's just a biased rag. Like most people, I get my news online now from sources I trust to be unbiased.
+1 # Annietime13 2014-08-27 14:13
Please tell me what Online News Sources you consider to be UNbiased.

This is sincere, I Need to know.

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