How should journalists deal with UC-Davis’ spin about the pepper spray attack?

A police officer pepper sprays non-violent student protesters


Call it the Rodney King conundrum. Citizen video goes viral showing police out of control. Anyone with a functioning pair of eyes immediately understands the horror of what they are witnessing.

Then cut to the “official” pronouncements and the resulting media coverage, which ask you to ignore your lying eyes.

There was a time when we applauded a watchdog press that stood up for the little guy. But now instead we have a generation of news consumers who think reporters are “biased” if they use terms like “police brutality” and “torture” instead of some PR flack’s sanitized version of events.

Below is the full statement issued by Linda P.B. Katehi, chancellor of the university:

This link takes you to the L.A. Times’ article that offers nothing beyond some quotes from the chancellor’s press release issued today, though it does provide video of the police attack.

The story did not make the home pages of the New York Times or Washington Post but both sites ran a version of the Associated Press article (click here for Washpo and here for the NYT version).

The AP account summarizes the chancellor’s statement in a way that makes her look more sympathetic than the full press release does. The only other quotes come from Annette Spicuzza, the police chief at UC-Davis. The Sacramento Bee is credited with capturing her lame explanation that the pepper spray attack was justified because her officers felt so threatened.

“There was no way out of that circle. They were cutting the officers off from their support. It’s a very volatile situation.” – Chief Spicuzza

Really? If those burly officers clad in riot gear and armed with batons and pepper spray were intimidated by some friendly college students, why should anyone trust them to defend citizens against rapists and murderers?

The bottom line, of course, is that the students who are left out of these articles are the ones who are paying the tuition that is used to pay for the police chief and the brutal officer wielding the can of pepper spray, as well as the mealymouthed chancellor. A task force report in 90 days? That’s it?

I suppose in this era when PR spin is portrayed as an example “civility” and “polite discourse,” we should be happy that Ms. Katehi (or her PR flack) at least used the words “chilling” and “sadness.”

Holding journalists to an outmoded standard of “objectivity” is dangerous in an era when out-of-control police nationwide conducted violent crackdowns among peaceful protesters. The mainstream media will end up looking like part of the problem and not the solution until or unless they can find a way to be more than stenographers waiting for “officials” to issue more unmitigated bs for them to pass along without analysis or comment.

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4 thoughts on “How should journalists deal with UC-Davis’ spin about the pepper spray attack?

  1. That asshole cop using the pepper spray didn’t look threatened as he sashayed up and down the line spraying those sitting-with-bowed-heads’ students. And it’s going to take 90 days to figure out how to deal with this situation?!? That chancellor doesn’t deserve her salary. She doesn’t deserve the job at any level.

  2. Pingback: Traditional media FAIL in covering Occupy | Occupy Journalism

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