Amid calls for violent protests following the 2020 presidential election and yet another wave of violent riots in response to an apparently lawful police use of force, newspaper editors and network news producers are seemingly promoting violence and media distrust in their reckless reporting.
This is increasingly evident in the fact that newsrooms appear to be omitting contextual information about incidents and the law, which paint a slanted narrative of systemic injustice that seemingly seek to incite protests that potentially can easily lead to violence and property damage.
The Philadelphia Inquirer has provided daily examples of this type of journalism in their coverage of the violent unrest throughout the nation’s sixth largest city following the police shooting of Walter Wallace, Jr. Wallace was killed by Philadelphia police when he allegedly ignored orders to drop an eight-inch knife while approaching officers following a domestic violence call by his mother; she had an abuse injunction against him.
The police shooting caused rioting and unrest, despite a clear video showing the facts of the case.
The Inquirer’s headline, "Tense, Hours-Long Protests Erupted in West Philadelphia After Police Fatally Shot a Man," carefully omitting the word "Armed" in context.
In the day following the shooting, the entire main page of the Inquirer website seemingly painted Wallace as a victim, questioning police tactics and classifying his shooting as a part of “190 years of brutality against Black people in Philadelphia.”
In the ensuing 48 hours, Philadelphia was plunged into violent riots resulting in the injuries of 57 police officers.
At one late-night West Philadelphia flashpoint, a woman attempted to drive through a line of police officers, ignoring police orders, resulting in her having to be forcibly removed from the vehicle.
In the backseat of her vehicle, her small child.
This was later reported by Philadelphia’s newspaper of record and tweeted by the Inquirer’s managing editor in a piece, "Philly police pulled a woman from SUV during unrest, beat her, separated her from her child, and handcuffed her at the hospital, attorney says."
The article showed video that only started after the police were forcibly removing the woman from the vehicle and failed to ask why and how the woman ended up in the middle of a riot, toddler in her car, failing to obey with police traffic orders.
The article accusing police of beating the woman in the car was written by Inquirer Anna Orso, whose bio states "writes about issues related to women, gender identity and sexuality" in addition to breaking news in Philadelphia.
On Oct. 22, Orso authored a piece, "How Philadelphia Activists are Planning 'Mass action' For the Days Following Election", which discusses the planning of protests following election day, listing the protest groups sponsoring these protests in a manner that seemingly promotes them and invites readers to join.
This includes a quote that "every vote should be counted."
However, just like Inquirer’s omitting context about why Wallace was shot and why a woman refusing to comply with police orders during a riot may have had to be forcibly removed from her vehicle, Orso’s piece failed to offer any context as to how the counting of legally valid ballots should be counted, but not others [by law].
In the battleground of Pennsylvania, this issue is of major importance.
A myriad of legal challenges are being filed for consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal state court rulings that ballots can be received and counted up to three days after election day, and that signatures on mail-in ballots could not be rejected as they would if registered voters appeared at a polling place in person on election day.
This didn’t stop editors from publishing Orso’s piece who quoted an activist named Erika Guadalupe Núñez, who said "A lot of Philadelphians can’t vote. Ours happens to be because of citizenship and borders," she said. "But a functioning democracy is in all of our interests. If we see any sort of possibility that folks' votes aren’t being fully counted, then we’re not going to accept it."
One wonders why Orso’s editors allowed the piece to be published without making an attempt to set the record straight about how undocumented illegal immigrants cannot, by US law, vote.
This is a similar issue in the same piece when Orso quotes another activist named Bryan Mercer, who said "This year has represented trying moments for every community in the city as people struggled with the pandemic, the economic crisis, with the blatant police brutality and oppression against Black lives," Mercer said. "In these hard times, our communities are stepping up more because we need to. If there’s an attempt throughout this election to stop the count early or make sure every vote isn’t heard, then our communities will come together again."
Again, Orso’s piece fails to refute Mercer’s claim of "blatant police brutality and oppression against Black Lives," despite governmental statistics which refute those claims, nor the fact that Pennsylvania has no policy that "make sure every vote isn’t heard."
This makes readers wonder if the editors at the Inquirer seek to paint existing laws to prevent voter fraud as somehow unfair; thus promoting a conclusion that readers should protest any election result they don’t "accept."
This coverage has added fuel to the fire of perceived racial injustice leading to animus against one of the most racially diverse law enforcement agencies in America.
Worse, as many Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about unrest and violence following election day, the media should be providing objective information — not that which may be interpreted as false assertions based on incomplete or lacking contextual information.
By seeming to incite racial animus amid riots and promoting election-day protests, the Inquirer may be creating the very election-day concerns that America needs to avoid.
Not only does this give the appearance of questionable journalism, but it may actually contribute to voter fraud arguments in Pennsylvania. It isn’t the media’s responsibility to provide excuses for those acting unlawfully, but to report what happened objectively and allow the reader to draw their own conclusions.
If news organizations can’t employ editors who can assure that their reporters provide accuracy and context in their reporting, then readers are right to take their patronage to other (free) publications.
A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his two and a half decade career on both sides the criminal justice system. Mannes served in both federal and municipal law enforcement in though the 9/11 attacks, D.C.-area sniper task force, homeland security exercises and natural disasters. Mannes' work in D.C. led to personal encounters with the D.C.'s unlawful personnel actions, unconstitutional gun laws and criminal justice inequalities, which led him to become an advocate for public integrity. Thereafter, Mannes served for nearly nine years as the Director, Office of Investigations for North America's largest medical board, as a Chief Compliance Officer, consultant, expert witness, nonprofit board member and political adviser. Read A. Benjamin Mannes' Reports — More Here.
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