The other day in upstate New York I drove past a small diner with a sign that read, “City Chicken With Potato Salad $5.95” and below that was “Military/Police Lives Matter”. How true that statement is, especially since it is the military and police that risk their lives to keep the thugs, rapists, ruthless regimes and other bullies from running over those who cannot protect themselves.
Fifty years ago when I was in school nerds and anyone small or weak were a target for bullies. Thankfully bullies are a minority but they are a disproportionally annoying one. I was not a nerd and I never saw myself as small (although I was) so I was seldom a target but nonetheless I found bullying unacceptable. During fifth grade recess one day I noticed an upper classman bullying a friend of mine. My friend was not a fighter and smaller than the bully.
I stepped between the two of them and said something clever like, “What are you picking on him for.”
The bully had no reason to fear me; he was bigger, stronger and I had no authority over him. After a few minutes of pushing, shoving and finally wrestling in the rich Indiana soil I found myself in the principal’s office looking up at Mr. Neff.
Mr. Neff dramatically laid a large black paddle in the center of the table in front of the bully and me and demanded, “Why were you fighting?”
I was familiar with Mr. Neff’s paddle and the whoosh sound it made as it raced through the air and slammed into the bottom of a young man and the loud cry and whimpers that followed, but his intimidating black paddle did not change how I felt about what I did. I had no regrets, what the bully was doing was wrong and I was the only person around to do anything about it. The details of that meeting are foggy but basically I told Mr. Neff what I saw and did. I did not hear the whoosh of the paddle that day, instead Mr. Neff simply told me to report to my classroom and the substitute teacher who was filling in for Mrs. B.
The next day Mrs. B returned and without asking why or how the fight came about, scolded me for fighting.
“School is not for fighting”, she growled through loose dentures and droopy lips. “You will be punished.”
Mrs. B’s paddle dangled from the chalkboard behind her head. It was the size of a cricket paddle, made of wood, covered in autographs and finished in a high gloss that reflected the green glow from the florescent lights that hummed above our heads. I am sure she would like to have laid into me with her wooden assistant but by then she was old, frail and walked with a cane. My punishment was no recess for a few days.
Even as a fifth grader I thought it was ignorant to condemn someone for his actions before learning the full story. My recess was taken away but it really didn’t matter; my friend was thankful I stepped up and the bully never again bothered me, my friend or anyone else in Mrs. B’s fifth grade class.
Sadly bullying doesn’t stop in fifth grade. Last year in Ferguson Missouri, where officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, the media ran countless stories with quotes and sound bites from unreliable sources that were proven false by physical evidence, DNA, photographs, audio forensics and honest reliable eyewitnesses. Nonetheless the media’s 24/7 reporting of the unsubstantiated claims led to riots, violence, looting, destruction of property and death threats toward those attempting to restore peace, as well as officer Wilson and his family. The caustic environment the media created also made honest, reliable, black eyewitnesses fearful to tell the truth. Some were threatened that if they told the truth or anything else that supported officer Wilson’s statement that they would face consequences. But despite the bullying and threats, brave members of Ferguson’s black community stepped forward and spoke honestly about what they saw that day and it was consistent with the evidence, autopsy and testimony of officer Wilson.
So what is the truth and how does that differ from the media spin?
The truth is that Mr. Michael Brown did not raise his hands to surrender, was not shot in the back and there is no evidence that supports he said, don’t shoot. What is true is he attacked officer Wilson in his police car and attempted to take the officer’s gun. In fact, the six-foot four, two hundred and eighty-nine pound Michael Brown was charging toward officer Wilson when he was shot and killed.
What was Mr. Brown doing earlier that day prior to attacking officer Wilson?
A few minutes before Mr. Brown assaulted officer Wilson, Brown shoved a store clerk aside and brazenly reached over the counter and stole cigars from a local market. Mr. Dorian Johnson, his accomplice, admitted to the crime.
But despite all this information being public record the media prefers to keep its original, more inflammatory spin on the story and still opens with, “Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, shot and killed… by… a white police officer”, instead of updating the story to a more accurate description based on a comprehensive, logical and scientific review of evidence combined with the testimony of reliable witnesses, such as, “Mr. Brown, a six foot four, two hundred and eighty-nine pound man who robbed a convenience store, assaulted the store clerk then attacked a police officer and attempted to take the officers’ gun, was shot and killed as he aggressively charged the officer and ignored repeated pleas to, “Stop and get on the ground.”
To quote one of the courageous black eyewitnesses, “the officer was in the right” and “did what he had to do”.
An extensive grand jury investigation came to the same conclusion. Unfortunately, officer Wilson, a policeman who was just doing his job, protecting the smaller, weaker people from bullies, is now a caricature trapped in an existence based on the media’s portrayal instead of the truth. It’s a sad irony that the same media giants that write about forensic science and make millions of dollars from forensic TV shows choose to ignore real forensic evidence when it does not fit their agenda.
Ferguson is not the only example of the media causing damage to people and property last year. The story, “A Rape On Campus”, written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely and published by Rolling Stone Magazine claimed that a University of Virginia (UVA) student was gang raped by five men in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. What makes this story more egregious than the medias handling of the Ferguson case is that it was not breaking news; it was a story that was crafted over months, reviewed by staff editors and lawyers and supported by a photograph that Rolling Stone doctored to fit their agenda. The story was so weak that almost immediately the Washington Post and others questioned its creditability.
Like Ferguson the media frenzy created a firestorm that destroyed reputations and careers, scared students and parents, damaged property, and cost the public thousands of dollars. Rolling Stones initial response to the discovery of their attempt to peddle fiction as journalism was to lay blame on the alleged rape victim. But months later after police investigations concluded there was no evidence to support Erdely’s story and a Columbia University School of Journalism investigation declared the story was not up to acceptable journalistic standards, it was obvious that the writer and the magazine engaged in unethical and unprofessional behavior. Even before Rolling Stone published the story students interviewed for the piece, including a rape victim, all made the same observation; she (the writer) seemed to have an “agenda” and was not really interested in what they had to say. Lawsuits have been filed and the courts will determine if Erdely and Rolling Stone Magazine acted with “actual malice” or if they were just heartless and self-serving. Rolling Stone’s response to the police findings and the Columbia University investigation was that they have no intentions of replacing the writer or editor responsible for the discredited story; apparently they are satisfied with their work, ethics and level of professionalism.
Fifty years ago an upper classman was the bully, today the media appears to be the bully and Mr. Neff is not around to encourage them to tell the truth.