Ferguson Case Poses Test for Corporate Media

Ferguson police teargas reporters (

Journalists under teargas attack from police in Ferguson, Missouri ( screenshot)

The killing of Michael Brown, an African-American man, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, posed a test for corporate media. The story was hard to avoid once the local community came out in protest, still ongoing, and were met harshly by police. Probably more significant for the press corps, the online community–in this case largely black social media–erupted in pain and anger, with some of their criticism directed at the press itself.

Some media have hewed to troubling practices that privilege police accounts and play up the specter of unruly mobs, as with the USA Today story (8/14/14) that rhetorically balanced “angry calls for reform and tear gas lobbed at protesters,” in a piece that glossed the use of dogs, submachine guns and riot gear as police “seek[ing] order.” And some will always choose to bland it out, like the L.A. Times‘ reference (8/13/14)  to “an unsettled national conversation over race and policing.”

The surprise, then, has been the extent to which some media seem to be taking the outcry seriously, talking about the militarization of police–brought home by the rough treatment given to reporters covering the story–and the criminalization of black people.

But there’s still a question of how deep they’ll delve. Media were especially taken with the hashtag campaign #iftheygunnedmedown, in which black men posted two different pictures of themselves–one in cap and gown, for instance, and another in which they looked “tougher” or “rougher”–and rhetorically asked which image media would use if they were killed by police. The campaign garnered a front-page story in the New York Times (8/12/14) and a Time magazine plaudit (8/11/14) for “What Hashtag Activism Does Right.”

Sadly, the point wasn’t that it was an interesting question, but that we already know the answer.

About Janine Jackson

Program Director and Co-producer of CounterSpin
Janine Jackson is FAIR's program director and and producer/co-host of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. She contributes frequently to FAIR's magazine, Extra! and co-edited The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s (Westview Press). She has appeared on ABC's Nightline and CNN Headline News, among other outlets, and has testified to the Senate Communications Subcommittee on budget reauthorization for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Her articles have appeared in various publications, including In These Times and the UAW’s Solidarity, and in books including Civil Rights Since 1787 (New York University Press) and Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism (New World Library). Jackson is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and has an M.A. in sociology from the New School for Social Research.