Somewhat lost in the rush to get the bottom line reported last Monday evening when St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCullough made his quite thorough statement regarding the grand jury process and what the men and women of the panel went through to come to their decision on whether or not to indict then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson with any sort of a crime, was his quite damning remarks on the news media and social mediaâ€™s roles in making the job more difficult for the grand jurors to sift fact from fiction.
The entire line of comments passed most people by – except for actual media types, most particularly those who work for leftist vehicles who had gotten the memo that Bob McCullough doesnâ€™t play ball with the big boys (that would be the national race baiters). Â CNNâ€™s legal expert Jeffrey Toobin called the statement an extended whine. Â Daily Kos and Salon found ways to needle McCullough after his presser. Â The Washington Postâ€™s Dana Millbank questioned the manâ€™s integrity due to family history. Â The last is part of the talking points we in St. Louis are most familiar with as they surface any time there is a police involved shooting where the police are either victim or shooting in the line of duty. Â His father was a cop killed in the line of duty by a black man. Â That does not mean the man is dishonest or racist. Â (It never surfaced nationally, but when a cop here is killed in the line of duty, McCullough is the lead prosecutor. Â Always. Â And he usually gets convictions.)
When it comes down to it, all people who engage in media and social media are guilty of stirring the pot, and the gentlemanâ€™s words have a certain ring of truth to them:
On August 9, Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson. Within minutes, various accounts of the incident began appearing on social media. The town was filled with speculation and little if any solid accurate information. Almost immediately, anger began brewing because of the various descriptions of what had happened and because of the underlying tensions between the police department and a significant part of the neighborhoodâ€¦.
The most significant challenge encountered in this investigation has been the 24-hour news cycle and the sensational appetite for something to talk about. Following closely behind were the rumors on social media.
I recognize the lack of accurate detail surrounding the shooting frustrates the media and the general public and helps breed suspicion among those already stressed out by the systemâ€¦.
….before the result of an autopsy was released, witnesses claim they saw Officer Wilson stand over Michael Brown and fire many rounds into his back. Others claim that Officer Wilson shot Mr. Brown in the back as Mr. Brown was running away. However, once the autopsy findings were released showing Michael Brown had not sustained any wounds to the back of his body, no additional witnesses made such a claim. Several witnesses adjusted their stories in their subsequent statements.
Some even admitted they did not witness the event at all but merely repeated what they heard in the neighborhood or assumed. Fortunately for the integrity of our investigation, almost all of initial witness interviews, including those of Officer Wilson, were recorded. The statements in the testimony of most of the witnesses were presented to the grand jury before the autopsy results were released by the media, and before several media outlets published information from reports they received from a D.C. Government official.
The entire statement can be accessed via the StLToday website.
There are additional sentences that flesh out the concept that law enforcement does not release all details of crimes in order to have some leverage in interrogation to get a confession or honest witness statements, but the basic premise is laid out: the announcement took so long because there were so many rumors and public statements released before the investigation was complete, that the grand jury had to wade through it all. Â And for the most part, it was because â€œwitnessesâ€ heard this or that, and repeated it even though the evidence didnâ€™t match.
As stated above, we who write and otherwise report on national level stories are all guilty to some extent. Â Everyone looks for an angle not covered in order to generate traffic. Â In this case, though, there was a lot of reporting off the cuff. Â It is especially bad when reporters from the east coast come in to a place they do not know and start reporting without having much of an idea of how local communication and living works. Â St. Louis is the largest small town in the country. Â There are two degrees of separation, not six. Â We donâ€™t leave. Â In fact, we tend to stay in the general vicinity of our childhood homes as we grow up or move within north, south, and mid county corridors.
Twitter founder Jack Dorsey is from here, and we, his people, took to his product like ducks to water. Â The real story gets twisted all the time out there. Â Itâ€™s not a good source for information. Â Gossip, yes, but not straight skinny. Â The concept of a â€œneighborhoodâ€ is very specific here. Â After your high school, in what neighborhood you grew up tells more about your background to another native than anything else could. Â When most of us heard â€œCanfield Apartmentsâ€ in Ferguson, we kind of assumed some version of what actually happened, happened. Â This is the sort of stuff no national reporter could possibly know unless they grew up here. Â And the fact that they were reporting witness statements before police were done investigating lends credence to Mr. McCulloughâ€™s critique of the media.
Plain and simply, the Michael Brown incident was blown out of proportion by a national media anxious to prove a narrative that says white police are racist and shoot black kids in the back just because they can. Â Anyone who knows police knows that there are bad apples who give the rest a bad name. Â No different than any other group. Â But the vast majority are working to protect and serve a community. Â Their families and loved ones gulp every day not knowing if when one of them goes to work in the morning, whether or not itâ€™s the last time they will see them alive. Â Assuming that a cop was doing something other than his job in any incident of this sort is irresponsible. Â And that was the position a whole lot of the media took.
On the left, there has been all along a wholesale bashing of St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCullough for a simple reason. Â Heâ€™s honest and he does his job without prejudice. Â Al Sharpton said that â€œtheyâ€ did not have much faith in him. Â If I were McCullough, I would wear that like a badge of honor. Â For those of us who have lived with him as our prosecuting attorney for over twenty years, weâ€™ve seen that office maintain integrity during that time. Â There has not been much in the way of scandal in his tenure. Â He runs for his office unopposed, and this year won the Democratic primary by such an overwhelming margin, we all assumed the local political scene was half the issue with the entire blow up.
McCullough is a very smart man. Â He knew well enough that his history would come into question. Â So, he sent the case to a grand jury and had the people decide whether or not there is enough evidence to bring charges – a tradition in the United States that dates back to our colonial period. Â There is no dishonor in that, even if it put a police officer and his family through a hell that they did not deserve. Â At the press conference, the man spoke his mind. Â The 24 hour news cycle made the grand juryâ€™s job difficult. Â It was an honest assessment. Â Never did McCullough say the media does not have a right to report, just that the spread of rumor and innuendo made the grand juryâ€™s job difficult. Â Rather than sneering at the concept, it might be worth taking to heart.
The other tidbit that came up in a local news cast was that local media was given deference by the prosecutorâ€™s office from the beginning. Â The night of the announcement, the pool cameras were all from local news stations. Â McCullough addressed local reporters first. Â The national people could not have liked that.