Don't Let Character Assassination Kill The Real Story
1 year ago
Time for journalists to stop spinning stories and return to their principles
It was almost a year from the time that 14-year old Shaquanda Cotton of Paris, Texas was sentenced until (The Chicago Tribune’s) Howard Witt wrote an article that stirred the Black Web Roots. It was nine months between the fight involving the Jena Six and the Jena March. It’s been only a month since Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch patrolman who was told to quit following him by a 911 dispatcher.
Unfortunately, we see journalists and reporters making the same types of judgments as the neighborhood patrolman in Florida. Maybe it’s not a hoodie that leads to a rush to judge, but maybe it’s the preacher in a 5 button suit. Maybe it’s a council person who splits his or her verbs. Maybe it’s the community leader with a think accent.
While pen to paper or fingers to keyboard may not inflict a fatal wound, character assassinations have real consequences that too few reporters acknowledge these days. Like it or not, our biases and judgements affect our reporting, and too often people of color are disproportionately affected.
Yesterday my son and daughter and I were at McDonald’s. We ordered pancakes and I sent my son to the counter to get a couple of packets of butter. I noticed he was wearing a hoodie, with the hood pulled up on his head. I saw a 10 year old boy who loves to have fun, play with his sister, a gifted student who I wish would study just a little bit harder in school.
Trayvon’s been described as being a fun loving kid who loved sports, Avatar The Last Airbender, and still liked to go to Chuck E. Cheeses. Those same things could be said about my son, and probably the same for many of you in the room who have kids.
As I looked at my son in McDonalds, I realized someone could see him with his hoodie on and let their preconceived notions and bias influence how they treat him. I thought about how devastated Trayvon’s parents must be, as they ask only that the man who shot and killed their son be arrested and let the justice system decide his fate.
If any of you are ever asked to write a story about my son, about his greatest successes or the inevitable failures that we all must experience in life, all I ask is that you be fair. Acknowledge the biases that you bring to the story. Acknowledge the opposing views that may be held by people who do not look like you, who may have had different experiences, whose opinions you may not even understand.
I ask that you don’t spin his story to sell more paper or entice more clicks. That you don’t see him as an opportunity for gotcha journalism, passed off as investigative reporting. Though the business of journalism is hurting, the need for the true principles represented by the profession have never been more valuable.
And the individuals who choose to use the news to make a difference are also more valuable than ever. Whether it’s for a newspaper, or a website or even a public relations agency, all I ask, is that you be true to yourself, and true to those who need you most. Someone like my son or like the late Trayvon Martin.