The Ferguson Hoax and Media Truth-telling

March 23, 2015


You know the standards of the media have hit rock bottom when a liberal commentator makes news for telling the truth. Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post and MSNBC has become a media star for his belated recognition of the “Hands up, don’t shoot” lie out of Ferguson, Missouri. Better late than never, except for the fact that this liberal narrative was always in dispute. There was never any legitimate reason to believe that Police Officer Darren Wilson had simply fired on Michael Brown for no reason.
 
The appropriate reaction to Capehart’s Damascus Road conversion to the truth should be: What took you so long? And what will you do to make sure you never fall for such a vicious lie again?
 
Don Irvine, the chairman of Accuracy in Media, notes in his blog on the AIM website that Capehart admitted the narrative was wrong after the Department of Justice found Wilson’s side of the story to be true. Capehart said, “What DOJ found made me ill.” Irvine commented, “I would be ill too if I had helped push a false narrative that gave fuel to the riots in Ferguson that have cost businesses and taxpayers millions of dollars, and ruined the career of Officer Wilson.”
 
The people who should be ill are those who depend on Capehart and others like him for the truth.  Capehart is just trying to recover some of the credibility he never had in the first place.
 
Those of us who don’t take Capehart and his ilk seriously as arbiters of truth are watching this celebration of his one-time truth-telling as an example of how, for much of the media, lies and distortions are the standard fare. Otherwise, why would telling the truth be so controversial?
 
But this case is much more than a few liberal commentators like Capehart taking the side of dishonesty and then waking up, months later, to what actually happened.
 
Colin Flaherty, an award winning reporter and author of Don’t Make the Black Kids Angry: The hoax of black victimization and those who enable it, says that what happened in Ferguson was a carefully orchestrated hoax. He notes how in an amazing turnabout, the false claims about an unprovoked murder of a young black man became complaints about too many traffic tickets for black people.
 
“We now know the Ferguson riots were all about racist traffic tickets and not the relentless white racism and violence that killed yet another black person,” Flaherty notes. “The greatest bait and switch of our generation and few reporters even seemed to notice. Why would they? They are used to it by now.
 
“First they told us about ‘hands up, don’t shoot.’ When that turned out to be a lie, they told us about the Gentle Giant. It continued for months, one lie after another, each discarded, replaced and sometimes recycled.” Flaherty reminds us of several of the lies. We were told that Michael Brown was shot in the back, that he was minding his own business, and trying to surrender.
 
Flaherty adds, “The racial grievance industry and their beards in the press put on and took off each lie like a cheap suit. Cute kids made viral videos with the ‘hands up don’t shoot’ pose, and reminded white people of their relentless racism. Members of Congress followed from the floor of the House.
 
“The President talked about racists in Ferguson at the United Nations. The parents of Michael Brown were honored guests at the gala dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus. The President greeted them from the podium during his keynote speech to extended applause. Then he talked about Ferguson racism.
 
“The Attorney General travelled to Ferguson and made [a] ‘personal promise’ that he would stand with the people of Ferguson. As long as those people were not cops.”
 
Flaherty goes on, “Entire cable networks repeated the lie day after day, guest after guest, promo after promo. Death. Murder. White racism. How could we not see it? Were we so blind, so immersed in white privilege, like a fish unaware of the water?”
 
It turned out, according to the DOJ, that Ferguson was all about traffic tickets. “Funny: At the time, no one mentioned the traffic tickets that now stand with the firehoses and police dogs of Selma as icons of racist oppression,” Flaherty notes.
 
The facts were such that the Attorney General had to grudgingly admit what many others had been saying from day one. “The facts of the death and the fairy tale that followed were all concocted, spoon fed to a willing press corps that did nothing but ask for more,” he points out.
 
Then, suddenly, in another diversion from the essential truth of what happened, the media picked up on another narrative—that blacks were the victims of too many traffic tickets. “The day after the Attorney General’s confession, the manufactured outrage of Chris Cuomo of CNN was on full display as he and the Brown family attorney railed against the injustice of too many traffic tickets,” commented Flaherty.
 
The media moved on to another issue, without bothering to emphasize how wrong they had been in the months before. This is the performance of a media that promotes and even prefers lies over the truth. The lies, after all, gin up racial controversy and ratings.
 
Flaherty asks: what about the CNN anchors who were holding the “Hands up, don’t shoot” signs on the air?
 
That’s a good question indeed. These included what we called a prominent example of the “fake conservatives” in the media, such as when Margaret Hoover joined her fellow CNN panelists in a “Hands up, don’t shoot” display based on the fiction that Brown was surrendering to the police when he was shot.
 
Hoover has written a book titled, American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party. This self-described conservative thinks she has the answer to saving the Republican Party. She engaged in that display despite the fact that she said the narrative had been discredited because of witness testimony from the grand jury.
 
So Hoover engages in something she knows to be untrue, simply because it is the fashionable thing to do. What does this say about her ethical standards? “As a reform Republican, who works for the GOP to broaden its base and reach new constituencies, I see no contradiction between supporting law enforcement and the policy solutions highlighted by these protesters,” Hoover says.
 
The “protesters” were not highlighting “policy solutions,” but a deadly and false narrative about alleged police violence. She could have told the truth. Instead, she participated on the air in a display of a false narrative.
 
Why doesn’t she have the decency to apologize? Why doesn’t CNN apologize?  
 
Flaherty also wonders why, after the hoax was exposed, we didn’t hear one apology from the media. It’s because our media have no standards of ethical behavior and conduct. Instead, the media went on with their business, acting as if traffic tickets “justified all the rioting, vandalism, fire-bombing, looting, assaulting, attacks on police, gunfire and other mayhem in and out of Ferguson.”
 
The praise for Capehart for eventually telling the truth may be one way the media can attempt to atone for their sins in this coverage. But it’s not good enough.

Copyright ©2015

Cliff Kincaid is the director of the AIM Center for Investigative JournalismCliff regularly appears on television and radio programs, including the CBS Evening News, NBC’s Today Show, Lou Dobbs Tonight, The Glenn Beck Show, Fox and Friends, The O’Reilly Factor, and more. He has co-authored several books, which you can purchase from the links below.

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