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Is the Press Agitating Things in Ferguson for a Good Story?

Capt. Ron Johnson says that yes, at times journalists are mistreated, but sometimes they’re instigating tension to get a good story.


Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol speaks to media during a protest on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 18, 2014. 

Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

"Why Police Will Continue to Arrest Journalists"

"At the end of another dangerous night in Ferguson, Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson offered an emotional plea to the media on Monday: Please stop putting officers in danger and glamorizing violent agit...," Lindsay Toler wrote Wednesday for St. Louis' Riverfront Times. 

It appeared under the headline, "Why Police Will Continue to Arrest Journalists in Ferguson."

"Johnson seemed near tears as he illustrated the danger the press face in Ferguson — earlier that night, reporters disobeyed police orders and fled the media corral to take pictures of a car parked across the street before officers could secure two guns. Johnson said police suspect the occupants of the car opened fire at the Canfield Green Apartments that night.

"Journalists defied Johnson's plea, and it's easy to understand why they're even more distrusting than usual. Any journalist covering Ferguson at night has likely been tear gassed, if not hit by debris, rubber bullets, pepper pellets or bean bags. Police have threatened to shoot, mace and arrest reporters, sometimes on live TV or feeds. Officers have detained reporters from the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Getty Images and more, releasing them later without answers.

" 'Yes, we may take some of you into custody,' Johnson told press on Monday. 'But when we do take you into custody and we have found out you're a journalist, we've taken the proper action. But in the midst of it, we the midst of it, in the midst of chaos and trying to move people on, we have to be safe. We have to be safe.'

"With the eyes of the world upon them, members [of] the international press corps covering Ferguson have become their own story, sometimes because they're treated roughly and sometimes because it seems they're heightening, not just recording, the tension. From a Los Angeles Times reporter quoting an MSNBC reporter:

"@trymainelee says, and I agree, that media has become an accelerant at this point.

"Media voices amplify across Twitter as reporters point to their fear, bulletproof jackets and wounds as proof: If this happens to us, imagine how Ferguson police treat regular ol' folks.

"Seasoned reporters, bloggers, podcasters, activists with popular Twitter feeds, students, hobbyist photographers — all are converging on this St. Louis suburb, often outnumbering protesters to tell what's become the most important domestic news story of the year at a time when peace feels impossible for this St. Louis suburb.

"And police can't keep up, Johnson said. . . ."

Toler's was but one examination of the role that media are playing in the Ferguson story.

Maurice Berger, "Lens" Blog, New York Times: In Ferguson, Photographs as Powerful Agents

Dylan Byers and Hadas Gold, Politico: Ferguson media get into the story

Bobby Calvan, Asian American Journalists Association: AAJA urges authorities in Ferguson, Mo., to respect the rights of j...

Alicia Calzada, National Press Photographers Association: Media should be able to fly, despite temporary flight restriction i...

Reena Flores and Matt Berman, National Journal: What a Getty Photographer Captured Before He Was Arrested in Ferguson

Malcolm Harris, Al Jazeera America: Unethical journalism can make Ferguson more dangerous

Michael Malone, Broadcasting & Cable: St. Louis Stations Cover New Fatal Police Shooting

Diana Marszalek, TVNewsCheck: Stations Walk Fine Line With Riot Coverage

Ruben Navarrette Jr., Washington Post Writers Group: Tell the story, don't be it

Michael O'Connell, the Hollywood Reporter: Ferguson Coverage Drives CNN and Fox News Ratings as Curfew Lifts

Radio Television Digital News Association: St. Louis radio stations listen to Ferguson

Catherine Thompson, Talking Points Memo: Six More Journalists Arrested In Ferguson

Associated Press writers have been told they are no longer to refer to 18-year-old Michael Brown, the victim of the fatal police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., as a teenager.

Lou Ferrara, vice president and managing editor, sent AP staffers this memo on Monday:


"Moving forward, Michael Brown should be referred to as either

"Brown, 18,


"the 18-year-old

"Many outlets continue to refer to him as a teen or teenager. Now that we know his age, let's be specific without using a term that can be left up to interpretation."

Although the AP move comes amid efforts to tarnish Brown's reputation, spokesman Paul Colford said the memo was simply a move toward precision. Asked whether AP had been criticized as too favorable to Brown in its coverage, Colford replied by email:

"AP prefers specifics, such as a person's age. Instead of simply 'teenager' or 'teen,' both used by many news organizations for a long while (and still used by some) before Michael Brown's precise age was disclosed by authorities, the editors advised giving his exact age for greater clarity."

The AP Stylebook defines "adult" as "a person who has reached 18," although it does not say an 18-year-old cannot also be called a teenager.

A year ago, this column reported that the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial — all the buzz in the rest of the nation after his slaying of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin — did not seem to resonate in the same way among Native American journalists attending the National Native Media Conference in Tempe, Ariz.

Asked why, the responses were variations of "Native Americans receive unequal justice all the time."

The same dynamic seems afoot in the slaying of Michael Brown, at least according to a column by Steve Russell Tuesday for the Indian Country Today Media Network.

Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, wrote, "Indians have experienced this kind of law enforcement in border towns for many years, and know you can get stopped for walking or driving or eating or conversing loudly while Indian, and any objection to being singled out is answered by a use of force without proportion or consequences."

Russell is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. 

One commenter cited the case of 18-year-old Mah-hi-vist "Red Bird" Goodblanket, shot and killed by two Custer County, Okla., sheriff deputies in December. An autopsy report indicated that Goodblanket was shot seven times with wounds to his head, torso and right upper arm. Goodblanket, Cheyenne-Arapaho, was also shot two times with a Taser.

"Michael Brown gets to be the poster boy this year because there were several witnesses to the shooting in broad daylight, and the Ferguson police have been hiding information that is normally public, starting with the identity of the officer involved in the shooting, now known to be Darren Wilson, 28, a six-year police veteran with no apparent disciplinary history," Russell wrote.

The judge concluded, "The shooting of Trayvon Martin opened a national conversation on 'stand your ground' laws and racial bias. The shooting of Michael Brown seems to have stimulated a conversation about the militarization of police and the wisdom of equipping them with castoff military hardware.

"Reservation Indians have been subjected to militarized law enforcement since the ’70s, when the American Indian Movement took up armed protest. Deployment of armored vehicles and automatic weapons to suppress AIM caused no general public policy debate. If it had, the trend to deploy military weapons might have been curtailed long ago, to everyone's benefit.

"If the mission of the police is to protect and to serve, and the mission of the military is to kill the enemy and break his stuff, which outfit would you want answering your 911 call?

"Another crucial question: Should the answer differ depending on whether you live in Grosse Pointe or Detroit, St. Louis or Ferguson? Pinehurst or Pine Ridge?"

The Americans with Charlie LeDuff, WJBK-TV, Detroit: A righteous voice from the Ferguson chaos

Karen J. Aroesty, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Getting rid of structural racism

Kristian Davis Bailey, Ebony: The Ferguson/Palestine Connection

Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: Is the fix in? 

Black Entertainment Television: Mike Brown's Parents Break Their Silence, from "BET Special: Justice for Ferguson: The Shooting of Michael Brown," scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. Eastern time (video)

Alexandrea Boguhn and Coleman Lowndes, Media Matters for America: Geraldo Rivera And The Victim-Blaming Of Black Teenagers

Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune: Do black leaders ignore black-on-black crime? 

George E. Curry, National Newspaper Publishers Association: White Cops Kill at Least 2 Blacks Each Week

Emil Guillermo, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education: Ferguson Shows the Urgent Need for Diversity Still Exists

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, New America Media: Holder has a Compelling Case in the Brown Killing 

Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe: White America's racial blinders

Soya Jung, Why Ferguson Matters to Asian Americans

Roland S. Martin, the Daily Beast: Ferguson Shows a Nation at War With Itself

Eugene S. Robinson, Thin Blue Lines + Sudden Death

Frances Robles and Michael S. Schmidt, New York Times: Shooting Accounts Differ as Holder Schedules Visit to Ferguson

"The Takeaway," WNYC-FM, New York: Today's Takeaways: Beyond Ferguson: America's Struggle for Racial E... (five parts)

"The parents of journalist James Foley said Wednesday that they are 'haunted' by the cruelty of his death but believe he had accepted h.... 'We believe he was a martyr,' Foley's father John said, standing with his wife Diane outside their home in Rochester, N.H. 'A martyr for freedom,' " NBC News reported Wednesday.

"The couple said they learned of Foley's death 'like everyone else' — with news that the group ISIS had killed him and posted a video — but they did not watch the gruesome footage. 'It's horrific,' said John Foley. 'People can die in lots of different ways but this was the most horrific and it haunts me how much pain he was in and how cruel this method of execution is.'

" 'It testified to his courage. He was courageous to the end and I think he accepted his situation and I think he accepted God's faith in him and his faith in God,' the father said. His wife added, 'It reminds of us Jesus. Jesus was goodness, love — and Jim was becoming more and more that.' . . ."

When this column reported in June on Gerald Horne's provocative scholarship documenting the central role that slavery played in the decision by American colonists to fight for independence from Britain, few in the media had seen fit to report on his findings.

That is still the case, with Horne's hometown Houston Chronicle and the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times book sections yet to mention Horne's "The Counter Revolution of 1776," according to search engines.

But on Wednesday, Horne, who holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston, appeared on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" on Washington's public radio station WAMU-FM.

"As I scan today's headlines, I see many stories that need deeper in... (audio)," Horne said, responding to a question from Nnamdi about why the traditional narrative of the American War for Independence needed to be reexamined. "Stories like, for example, the high and disproportionate incarceration of black Americans, their over-representation on death row, stories like a Department of Education study that suggested that black preschoolers are suspended in a spectacularly higher rate than other preschoolers, academic studies that suggest that black pedestrians are mowed down by drivers more than other pedestrians.

"It seems to me — it seemed to me and seems to me that we need a deeper investigation of these kinds of normalized examples of bigotry. And it seems to me, as well, that we have to go back into history to get a truer picture of what's going on today."

Horne went on to discuss the northern states' stake in slavery as financiers, the participation by blacks in the sacking of Washington by the British in 1812, historians' downplaying of slave revolts, how slavery figured in Americans' relationships with Spain, France and Caribbean colonies such as Haiti, and even the role slavery played in extending democratic freedoms to European settlers.

"Given the controversy in Ferguson, Missouri, and given what we know about the United States, I don't think we should take an easy approach to how simple it has been to apply constitutional protections to people of African descent in the first place," Horne said. "And indeed, as I argue in my book, part of what drives what is oftentimes referred to bourgeois democracy is the demographic challenge that exists in the mainland of North America, where the settlers had to attract those who were defined as white to a combat zone so they can countervail the indigenous and the Africans.

"And they had to have enticements and emoluments and inducements, part of which were a passel or package of democratic rights that perhaps they did not enjoy — the settlers would not enjoy in the European continent. . . ."

Pearl Duncan, History News Network, George Mason University: How Our Impressions of an Author Shape What Gets Published, Even on...

Annette Gordon-Reed with John Hockenberry, "The Takeaway," WNYC-FM, New York: Ferguson: How America's Past Haunts the Nation's Present

Eleven people living in the United States illegally, including Jose Antonio Vargas, journalist and immigration activist, are applying for deportation deferrals as part of an effort to pressure President Obama to include many millions of immigrants in any executive action to reduce deportations, Vargas and his group, Define American, announced in Washington on Wednesday.

"Mr. Vargas and other advocates want the White House to halt deportations for most of the estimated 11 million immigrants h...," Julia Preston reported Tuesday for the New York Times in advance of the group's news conference.

According to Elise Foley, writing Wednesday in the Huffington Post, "The project started after Vargas, who came to the U.S. from the Philippines when he was 12, traveled to McAllen, Texas, in mid-July to document the humanitaria....

"After posting on Facebook that he was in McAllen, Vargas received a concerned text from Mony Ruiz-Velasco, a Chicago-based immigration lawyer who previously lived in Texas. She said she was glad he was there, but asked how he would get through a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on his way out. Vargas said the question hadn't occurred to him, because he typically flies using his Philippines passport without any problems.

"Concerned, Vargas asked Ruiz-Velasco to be his attorney. He'd soon need one. When Vargas went through airport security to leave Texas, a Border Patrol agent asked whether he had a visa to be in the U.S. Vargas does not, and was detained for several hours. He was released later that day, but received a notice to appear before an immigration judge.

"A few weeks earlier, Obama announced plans to take executive action on immigration. Vargas said that announcement and his arrest made him and other advocates think it was a good time to make the case for why administrative relief should apply to a broad array of undocumented immigrants.  . . ."

"At least five, perhaps as many as 10" of the 42 children slain in a..., a morgue director in the city, San Pedro Sula, told the Los Angeles Times' Cindy Carcamo, who reported from the Central American nation.

"Immigrant aid groups and human rights organizers say the Honduran government is ill-equipped to assist children at high risk after they have been returned," Carcamo reported.

"San Pedro Sula had 187 killings per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Honduras' overall homicide rate was 90 per 100,000 in 2012, the highest in the world, much of it fueled by gang and drug-trafficking violence. . . ."

Carcamo also wrote, "In one case, a teenage boy was shot to death hours after arriving in San Pedro Sula on a deportation flight, according to the boy's cousin, who refused to identify himself or the boy to The Times for fear of reprisal from neighborhood gangs.

"To do so, he said, 'I would be killing my entire family.'

"He said his cousin had left for Los Angeles after his family received several threats from the Barrio 18 gang. His mother and sister moved to a different neighborhood while the boy headed for the U.S. They simply abandoned their house in Chamelecon, one of the city's roughest areas. . . ."

"Online news outlets have been gaining on print when it comes to getting minorities in t...," Dennis Romero wrote Tuesday for LA Weekly. "There, one in five journalists is a person of color. One publication, BuzzFeed, says it's showing the way forward when it comes to covering Latinos in the United States:

"The site has gone on a hiring spree this year, adding about a dozen Latino bylines to its staff, although about three of those people are temporary fellows. . . . A majority of those folks are in BuzzFeed's airy Los Angeles office on Beverly Boulevard.

"The growth represents an explosion, as BuzzFeed employed only a pair of Latino reporters before its hiring spree this summer and spring. Already this month, BuzzFeed received a National Association of Hispanic Journalists Media Award for 'truly humanizing stories about Latinos fighting, protesting, fasting for immigration reform.'

"The driving force behind the stories, and the man directing BuzzFeed's Latino coverage, is its new Latino editor, twentysomething Adrian Carrasquillo. Appointed to the position in April, he's been covering the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, reporting on the child immigration crisis on the border, and sorting BuzzFeed's Latino content so that it gets to the virtual front-pages of the site.

" 'I want to respect the audience and I want people to feel we come from an authentic place,' he says.

"Carrasquillo has corralled a team of young, hungry reporters for BuzzFeed, including Juan Gastelum. Interviewed along with a half-dozen other Latinos at BuzzFeed's L.A. office, Gastelum says that the site has had to reconcile the fact that the dominant Latino faction in the U.S., Mexican Americans, reside mostly in the Southwest, even as the news industry has a strong northeast bias. . . ."

Philadelphia's two rival dailies, "the broadsheet Inquirer and tabloid Daily News, share an owner, a website, and now more than ever, mutual enmity an...," Daniel Denvir wrote Wednesday for Columbia Journalism Review. "Last month, the papers' owner and publisher, H.F. 'Gerry' Lenfest, overruled Inquirer editor Bill Marimow and killed a major page-one story at the behest of Daily News editor Michael Days. The Inquirer story explored why federal prosecutors did not bring charges against police officer Thomas Tolstoy, accused of sexual assault by three women in 'Tainted Justice,' the Daily News' 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation. The spiked Inquirer story also conveyed allegations, however, that Daily News reporters Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker had acted unethically in their interactions with one of Tolstoy's alleged victims. . . ."

Earl Calloway, former entertainment and fine arts editor of the Chicago Defender, died Wednesday, Kathy Chaney, a former Defender colleague, told Journal-isms. He was 87. Calloway joined the Defender in 1963 after working for the Associated Negro Press, the Chicago Courier and Negro Press International. Calloway, a lyric tenor, also appeared in operatic productions. Cheney wrote in in the Third Edition of "Who's Who In Black Chicago," "On the days he wasn't in the newsroom, Calloway hosted 'the Artists' Circle,' a weekly radio program on WGCR-FM featuring entertainers and show reviews." In 2009, the Defender laid off Calloway but said he actually was being reassigned as a freelancer. He worked until late 2012 and had been in a nursing home since. Calloway once worked at the Defender for six years without being paid, then-editor Lou Ransom said in 2009.

"Fareed Zakaria sought to dismiss new plagiarism allegations on Tuesday after an anonymous report cited 12 instances in which the veteran foreign policy journalist appeared to lift passages from other news outlets and websites," Dylan Byers reported Tuesday for Politico. " 'These are all facts, not someone else's writing or opinions or expressions,' Zakaria wrote in an email to POLITICO. . . . "

"Gopal Ratnam, a national security reporter for Bloomberg News, returned to the Washington bureau where he is based on Monday after...," Chris Roush reported Monday for Talking Biz News. "He was promptly laid off, sources tell Talking Biz News. . . ."

"It is not OK that there is a lack of journalists of color, and part...," Ann Simmons, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, wrote to Journal-isms in March. Now Simmons, who covered Russia for Time magazine from 1991 to 1994, is finally in that country. She told social media colleagues that she is investigating the plight of Africans there.

"Mo’ne Davis, a 13-year-old pitcher for the Philadelphia Taney Dragons, has already made history with her arm. Using a mean 70 mph fastball, she became the first girl to throw a shutout in the Little League World Series," Chris O'Shea reported Wednesday for FishbowlNY. "Now Davis has made magazine history as well. Davis is the first Little Leaguer to be featured on the cover" of Sports Illustrated . . .

"My advice [to young journalists] would be to really understand and study journalism, according to sports columnist Jason Whitlock in "Still No Cheering in the Press Box," the sportswriter interview project by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland. "So many people are focused on how they can capitalize on all of these new opportunities in journalism, but they have virtually no understanding of what journalism is." Ed Sherman, author of the Sherman Report, wrote Wednesday, "I never thought I would say this, but I am going share Whitlock's story with my sports journalism cla... There are some good lessons in there."

"Two influential NFL voices — including CBS lead analyst Phil Simms, who will handle Washington's Week 4 game — said Monday they likely won't use the term 'Redskins' when discussi...," the Associated Press reported on Monday. The report also said, "NBC's Tony Dungy, one of the most prominent voices in the league as a Super Bowl-winning coach and now as a studio commentator, plans to take the same route as Simms. . . ."

Meanwhile, Mike Wise reported Wednesday in the Washington Post, "For almost all of the final eight seasons and 146 games of [Mike] Carey's career, the first African American referee to work a Super Bowl — the official named with Ed Hochuli as the best in the game in a 2008 ESPN poll of coaches — essentially told his employers his desire for a mutually respectful society was so jeopardized by Washington's team name that he could not bring himself to officiate the games of owner Daniel Snyder's team."

"Renowned anti-apartheid journalist Nat Nakasa has received a long overdue hero's welcome at King Shaka International Airport in Durban," Jeff Wicks reported Wednesday for Eyewitness News in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa. Wicks also reported, "Nakasa died after falling from a building in New York in an apparent suicide in 1965. He was forced to leave the country when the nationalist government refused to allow him a passport after he was awarded the Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. . . ."

Reporting on Somalia, Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday it "condemns the closures of Mogadishu-based Radio Shabelle and Sky FM ... on 15 August, and the continuing detention and reported torture of the directors of the two radio stations and their owner. The two stations, both owned by Shabelle Media Network, were closed during raids on the morning of 15 August by members of the National Security Agency (NSA), who made the 19 arrests. . . ."

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