“Victim”? No.

Generally speaking, police officers expect fair scrutiny from the news media.  They know there are bad apples in their ranks.  If the media helps weed them out, good cops will cheer us on.

But like the rest of us, police officers recoil from cheap shots, real or perceived.  More than anything, they get defensive very quickly when reporters question their judgment in life-or-death situations.

Fellow WAGA ex-pat Bernard Watson raised such a question in this WGCL story, and police reacted harshly.

Watson has company; a WSB-TV reporter spent years living down a similar story.  Based only on e-mails and word-of-mouth among cops, legions of them badmouthed the reporter and vowed to never speak to him (or worse).  That was before Youtube and blogs.

The DeKalb Officers Speak blog raises two points about Watson’s piece that any reporter ought to take into consideration when producing such a story.

“Victim.” Be careful who you describe as a “victim.”  If the person killed died while attacking a cop (or anybody) with a knife (or anything), he started the altercation as an “attacker.”  If his grieving relatives say he’s a “victim,” take extra care to attribute the term.  Don’t use it on your own.

Viewpoint. Despite our pretenses to objectivity, journalism frequently carries a viewpoint.  Corrupt public officials are bad, murderers are grotesque, potholes are a pain.  DeKalb Officers takes issue with Watson’s question to an eyewitness:  “Some are saying it’s not right for this man to die in his own home.”   Unfortunately, Watson’s generic attribution was insufficient.  The question sounded like the reporter’s viewpoint.

It’s legitimate for the news media to ask questions when police officers use deadly force.  But if the story appears to focus on a “victim” of police excess, then the reporter needs strong prima facie evidence.  The “victim” needs to be a 92 year old woman, or have died in seriously questionable circumstances.

And if the eyewitness tells you, essentially, that the cop was legitimately in fear for his life — then that raises a big ol’ red flag about the premise of your story.

No doubt, Watson cobbled together a last-minute script while sitting in a dark live truck with a looming deadline. Could be that an inexperienced producer was after him to tell the “victim’s” story.  But ultimately, it’s Watson who has stand by his reporting.

Last weekend, WGCL news director Steve Schwaid contacted the anonymous DeKalb Officers blog to express regret for calling the dead man a “victim.”

Used to be, your story was “out to Pluto” by the time the broadcast was over.  Now it somewhat lives forever on the web, including the ones you kinda hope nobody noticed.  Along with your contact info.

I’d bet my paycheck Bernard Watson has no “agenda against the police” as DeKalb Officers suggests.  But his inbox is probably a rough place to visit these days.

…as is the inbox of the Atlanta TV reporter that cops are now calling “Doughnut Boy.”  Which is a whole ‘nother story…

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

5 thoughts on ““Victim”? No.

  1. The Observor

    Here is the breakdown of this story succinctly.
    Mr. Watson is an attractive face, however, he is a very weak reporter.
    Having seen his work at WAGA and now WGCL, his stories are disjointed and without clarity.
    The Dekalb Police won’t understand this. . . Mr. Watson is without is malice and without much ability as a big city reporter. Our business will give handsome men and women an opportunity but they must deliver. Bernard should not deliver stories without show producers approving every consonate and vowel.

    Reply
  2. Jim

    What the….??? The FIRST sound is the babysitter saying, ‘he charged at them with a knife”!!!
    It’s almost like Watson was doing a different package…even when he tried to “feed” the line to the babysitter, the guy still stuck up for the cops.

    I have one question that I would like to know an answer to. Who is the “some” that Watson refers to when he is talking about the man not having to die in his own home?

    Seriously, if he really had someone saying that, he should have had them on camera. If not, then he was apparently pushing some kind of agenda, because the only two people he got sound from, Mekka Parish and the babysitter both agreed that, while it was a bad situation, it was not the cops fault.

    Reply
  3. Tina Trent

    Well, one way to avoid bias from popping up in the camera truck is to avoid marinating in it in the first place. I can certainly imagine instances of accidental anti-cop reporting, but this isn’t credibly one of them.

    Reply
  4. LousyQuestions

    This is horrible reporting, horrible oversite from the news room executives and a perfect example of why the “tough question” schtick should be dumped or used sparingly.

    For one, there wasn’t one single tough question asked of any Police officer in this story. Just the constant reporting of the phrase in the lead in and reporter lead in.

    Give me a break.

    So, we craft an entire, bad cop, bad shooting story around the “tough question” premise when the fact of the matter is a deranged man with a knife tried to kill two officers.

    Shameless.

    Reply

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