Monday, March 23, 2009

S.F. Chronicle Again Lays Down Racial Overtones In Oakland Killings

Here's a cautionary tale of what could happen if metropolitan areas begin losing newspapers and the pulse of the community is lost from reporters:

Four Oakland police officers were killed this weekend by a parolee fearful of returning to prison. The story is tragic and points to real policies debates that need to be confronted, namely, overturning President Bush's repeal of the mid-90s assault rifle ban, but what happens when the Bay Area's pre-eminent daily shows a complete unawareness of the nuances of the story as it relates to the community?

All the Bay Area papers led with screaming front pages stories of the Friday slayings, but the cross-bay San Francisco Chronicle showed both an elitist and ignorantly slanted reporting of the story. Here's the lede Saturday from the triumvirate of Jaxon Van Derbeken, Demian Bulwa and Carolyn Jones:
Three Oakland police sergeants were shot and killed and a fourth officer was critically wounded Saturday in a pair of related incidents that together rank among the deadliest attacks on law enforcement in California history.
How did the inclusion of the imagery of an "attack" find its way into the lede without an editor asking for a rewrite? Is the new-look Chronicle attempting to color its coverage with more of a tabloid edge these days or are they oblivious to the racial overtones and inherent animosity between the law enforcement in Oakland and blacks and other minorities? The imagery of attacking the powers that be conjures up terrorist us-against-them propaganda. The terrorists "attacked" the World Trade Center. The "blacks" attacked the police department. The coverage of BART policeman Johannes Mehserle on a black man at the Oakland Fruitvale station was never describe as an attack by anyone. (Also, read the Chronicle's simplistic, downright dopey editorial from today.)

If these Chronicle staff writers knew the beat and actually covered the communities words like "attack" would not have been written. The prevailing attitude on the streets is obvious sorrow for the men in uniform who perished, yet underneath that feeling is the notion the police have taken out more of "them" than they have taken from the police. This mistrust is teeming through the city of Oakland and will likely get worse. The theory going around is that the rage on the police department's side will be taken out on the poor blacks in Oakland.

This is not the first time the Chronicle has shown a pro-law enforcement bent. An LFR posting from Jan. 5 of this year illustrated the differences between their coverage of the Oscar Grant BART shooting and the Oakland Tribune. The same reporter on this weekend's story, Demian Bulwa, showed either a lack of understanding regarding Oakland or simply was too lazy to get any other side of the story other than the Police department's

Similarly, the Oakland Tribune again published a solid, down-the-center story Saturday which did not evoke either side in a just-the-facts style. This, too, may not have been a function of knowing their backyard, but with such an explosive story playing it down the middle is the smartest journalistic course of action.

Many in the newspaper industry lament the day when a large American city will not have a daily newspaper on its streets, but what happens when reporters on any platform, whether on paper or on the Internet fail to actually report?

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