Thursday, December 4, 2003

Sensational, biased news stories stink

Peter Bronson

News is like a deviled egg. The farther it travels, the more it begins to stink. Just get a whiff of some of these stories about the big news in Cincinnati this week:

• "Officers beat black man to death,'' said the headline in Australia's national newspaper, The Australian.

"The police were called after Nathaniel Jones awoke from his early morning slumber at a fast-food restaurant and starting becoming a nuisance,'' the story began.

Phew. There was no evidence that Jones was beaten to death. Reports from the coroner showed he was not seriously injured by the cops, who jabbed him in the legs to get him to put his hands behind his back. The cause of death is more likely to be a combination of an enlarged heart and obesity mixed with PCP and cocaine. But story after story around the world and the nation jumped to the reckless conclusion that it was a fatal beating by the cops.

And what about that "slumber'' line? The frantic 911 call said he was passed out. "Slumber'' makes it sound as if he were taking a nap before he nearly "nuisanced'' a cop to death.

• Here's a Google headline that smells like green baloney: "Black policeman dies after beating'' - The Independent in South Africa. The story actually had a few facts right, but the Google headline was laughable.

• Great Britain's Independent reported: "Police video shows US officers fatally beating black man'' - and went downhill from there. "An investigation has been launched in Cincinnati after a police video revealed officers beating a black man with steel clubs,'' said the story by (no kidding) Andrew Buncombe.

"Steel clubs'' sounds so much more lurid than a P-24 collapsible baton made of aircraft aluminum filled with Styrofoam.

• The New York Daily News reported, "Man Dies in Cincy after cop beating.'' The story reeks of food-poisoning exaggeration: "Cincinnati was boiling with racial tension last night sparked by the death of a 350-pound black man who was beaten by nightstick-wielding cops as he cried 'mama.' "

Anyone who swallows that one needs a stomach pump. "Boiling with racial tension''? Hardly. On Monday, the "last night'' referred to in the story, only four protesters showed up at City Hall. Four.

Jones didn't beg for his mama, but he did call the cops "nappy-headed, white-boy redneck.'' He said something like, "My mama taught me how to (garbled)'' as he attacked the cops.

Such ridiculous reporting is too warped to be excused by mere ignorance and mistakes. It looks deliberately distorted to fit a biased agenda: Those racist cops in Cincinnati are killing black men.

Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story.

This story never would have made it past Dayton if the suspect had been white. It never would have traveled past Columbus if the cops had not turned on their own patrol-car camera to record the entire thing.

Time after time on TV, the cable news reporters rerun the tape, drooling over the "good video.''

But they nearly always leave out the most critical part - when Jones ignores the cops' commands to stay back, lunges at Officer James Pike, slugs him and tries to grab him in a chokehold.

Unless Michael Jackson dangles another toddler over a balcony soon, the Cincinnati Police reruns could break the record set by O.J.'s white Bronco.

It's rotten-egg reporting. Salmonella sensationalism full of bacteria bias. It's sickening.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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