Wednesday, August 5, 2009

NPR’s Rush to Judgment

The following is from an e-mail I sent to NPR in response to their coverage of the Gates incident.

NPR’s rush to judgment regarding the Gates–Cambridge Police imbroglio is a glaring example of the intellectual sloppiness and moral dishonesty that passes for journalism and reporting today. . Let’s consider:

NPR began this story by reporting that Louis Gates, a professor at Harvard, had been stopped by police as he tried to enter his own home and then was arrested by the Cambridge police for disorderly conduct. To NPR, case closed another example of white racism by police. To give emphasis to this alleged infamy, the story was coupled with the musings of a black spokesman, also totally uninformed about the event, who, nonetheless, divined what happened and saw in it, continuing evidence that racism was still rampant across America.

Sgt Crowley’s version differs markedly from this one-sided, incomplete account. Police had received a call that two black men were attempting to break in at the Gates address. Dispatched to the scene, Sgt Crowley saw a man standing inside the foyer of the house and asked him to step outside. The man refused, claiming that he lived there and when Officer Crowley asked him to step out again, the man began to scream and throw racial epithets at him. Why did the Sgt Crowley ask him to step out? Because, not knowing Mr. Gates, he had no way of knowing whether Gates was the home owner telling the truth, and thus at risk if intruders were inside, or a one of the two alleged burglars using duplicity to deceive the him.

Finally, after several requests for an ID, Gates provided Sgt Crowley with his Harvard identification. Once the police were satisfied that no one was inside and Gates was the homeowner, they were prepared to leave. Yet Mr. Gates continued his enfilade of bile and abuse, despite repeated warnings to stay inside and lower the volume. When Gates continued his rantings outside, in front of several police and bystanders, he was arrested. Even then, he was given courtesies others would have been denied: his hands were cuffed in front, not behind as is standard police procedure; he was given his cane, an unusual concession since it risks providing the detained with a weapon; and when brought to the police station, Gates was placed in a room, not a cell as he should have been.

If NPR had been committed to disinterested reporting, Crowley’s version would have been part of the original story. But, it wasn’t. NPR did run another story to give Sgt Crowley’s side, but only after a local Boston radio station had interviewed Sgt Crowley to air his side, and even here, NPR found it necessary to counter Crowley’s version with Gates and his lawyer’s refrain that Crowley was a rogue cop.

NPR’s sloppy and biased reporting was an injustice to Sgt Crowley and the Cambridge police and contributes to the pernicious lie that blacks continue to be the victims of white racism and predation.

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