NPR Ignores Video Evidence to Push False Race Narrative
- NPR Reporter says a 9 year old girl maced by police wasn’t resisting, when you can clearly see her repeatedly resisting on video
- NPR omits important context to the story, and chooses its language and story structure carefully to push emotions over facts
- NPR uses a third party quote to lie about what we can see with our own eyes on the video: hoping people never watching the video for themselves
Our Rating: 2 = Trash Journalism, aka the Daily Beast.
National Public Radio’s website published a story by Brakkton Booker earlier this month about an incident in Rochester, New York, that involves the arrest and detention of a 9 year old girl. Normally such stories are not news, but in this case the arresting officers used pepper spray and the girl being arrested is black, and the arresting officers generally appear to be white, and NPR chooses to ignore facts and video in order to tell a racial story where there isn’t one.
The piece neatly glides between narratives to reinforce several central left-wing memes: all police are racist, policing itself is ‘systemically’ racist. Those who are hurt by the police are largely innocent victims who are having violence imposed upon them.
- Superficial Investigation
- Missing Context
You can see it in the piece’s second paragraph, where it quotes the Rochester mayor as saying that contracts and unions prevent her from doing more.
Booker: “Unfortunately, state law and union contract prevents me from taking more immediate and serious action,” Warren said in a statement.
The next paragraph suggests a connection between two events in time that are not necessarily related:
Booker: “The suspensions came after city officials released police body-camera footage showing the encounter between officers and the girl.”
This is a clever way of suggesting, via “came after”, that the only reason there was any repercussion for the officers whatsoever was because they were caught by the video. Only when the video was released were those evil racist cops suspended.
The next two sentences, in the next paragraph, very subtly put into doubt whether the police are being honest.
Booker: “Officials said that police were responding to a family disturbance and that the girl was suicidal and upset. They said officers detained the minor to assist her, and they were trying to get her to move fully inside a police vehicle.”
Notice the phrase “Officials said that” and “They said” that start the two sentences. These are not accidents. These frame the facts as mere opinions. They try to present the police as merely presenting their interpretation of events rather than what actually happened. It would have been much cleaner to delete those phrases but they were important to subtly cast doubt on the story from police.
The next sentence takes one moment out of the video and attempts to conflate it to being the entire video, giving the reader the false impression about what is on the entire video. It makes the subject a victim, wholly sympathetic, and child-like. It is the most manipulative sentence in the entire piece:
Booker: The video, released Sunday, shows the girl crying and begging for her father.
Few who read this piece are going to take the time to watch the two available videos from the incident, even though they are linked within the story.
It’s notable that the girl is neither crying nor begging in the video. Instead, she is demanding her father with the statement, “I want my Dad!” and refusing to comply with officer instructions by going limp in the middle of a snowy street. The officers appear very reserved and professional during the incident, and the girl is clearly emotional and unhinged, but is never crying. It would be more accurate to call her hysterical and emotional, but those are terms that make the girl less sympathetic.
The girl kicks (CLIP 2 @ 0:34) and screams (CLIP 2 @ 0:35) at the officers, repeatedly, and says irrelevant nonsensical things like “my mom is pregnant though” (CLIP 2 @ 0:49). She demands for the snow to be brushed off of her (CLIP 2 @ 1:48).
In case there was any dispute as to whether she was crying for her father, or if she was demanding her father, the girl herself clarifies the distinction at (CLIP 2 @ 2:08) when she says “I am demanding [my Dad]” – none of this missing context is in the NPR article.
The demands by the officers are entirely reasonable, and the girl is entirely unreasonable. The officers seem to be very clearly trying to get her safely and securely into the vehicle. One officer even offers, (CLIP 2 @ 3:58), repeatedly to find her father who she is screaming about. The officer then explains that they are concerned that she might get hypothermia and needs to get in the warm car.
Officer: I’ll find your Dad, OK? You need to sit back, put your foot here, I’m going to get your Dad, OK? You need to get warm otherwise you’re gonna get hypothermia. So sit back, OK? I’ll get your Dad. I promise. Is he here?
Girl: I don’t know.
Officer: Okay. I’ll find him, OK? But you, look at me, I can’t find your Dad until you sit back and I can close the door, OK? I will find your Dad.
The NPR story is 817 words, and a mere 123 words are spent on describing what is actually found on the video. And the reporter chooses to quote the Rochester Executive Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson who is unsympathetic to his own officers, declaring that “I’m not making any excuses for what transpired.” This is the way NPR described the general events found on the video:
An officer decided to try to move the child to a police vehicle so that she could be transferred to a hospital, Anderson said, but the child “thrashed around.”
“From what was observed, it didn’t appear as if she was resisting the officer,” Anderson said. “She was trying not to be restrained to go to the hospital.”
The officer-worn camera footage, which contains graphic language and disturbing images, shows officers trying to restrain the girl as she falls in the snow. The officers put handcuffs on her as she screams out repeatedly: “I want my dad!”
It’s notable that the NPR reporter chose to use “scare quotes” around the phrase “thrashed around” suggesting that it did not happen. You can notice that the girl did, indeed, thrash around repeatedly against the officers in the two videos.
The next paragraph is so laughable it should render any statement from Anderson unusable. The Deputy Police Chief says he did not think she was resisting officers, and was not trying to be restrained. This statement is in direct contrast to the video we can see with our own eyes. Anderson uses weasel words, and the NPR reporter approvingly quotes him, to set the narrative for those who do not view the video. She was clearly resisting the officer and was clearly resisting being put into the vehicle.
When police ask for compliance from someone who is legally under arrest, physical movement and physical contact is considered resistance. The reporter knows this, so he can’t write it out as fact. He can, however, quote nonsense from a third party watching the same video as his readers and inject it into his story. If he believed Anderson’s lies, he would have stated it as observable fact in the video, not hiding behind the third-party attribution.
The politicization of the media has led not only to competing outlets, but competing sets of facts. Here, NPR is making clear that it does not care what the video might clearly show, it is more interested in preserving the narrative by over-newsifying this otherwise irrelevant story. A young girl who was suicidal and emotionally unhinged resisted officers as they tried to take her out of her home and to the hospital. Because the girl was kicking, screaming, thrashing, and more, they used pepper spray.
The story relies for its newsworthiness a bit on the prejudices of the viewer: anticipating that violent criminals are a certain gender, look a certain way, and act a certain way. The official data does not, unfortunately, make it easy to search for the crime rate among pre-teens, but it is generally understood that there are just as many violent crimes by those 15 and under as those in the 16-18 age bracket , that 10-15% of all violent crime is committed by juveniles  and at least 30% of those juvenile violent crimes are committed by females , and that the trends for the past three decades has been a steady increase in female violence.
This story would barely warrant a 200 word article on a forgettable local news blog. But by injecting race into the story, even though the girl’s extreme conduct suggests there was no racial angle to this story, is meant to purposefully inflame the situation. The NPR writer goes to great lengths to compare this and connect this incident to the death of a mentally ill man who died in police custody in Rochester in March.
The writing lacks a transition or segue between the description of Prude’s death, and a powerful quote about the arrest of this 9 year old girl. In so doing, the writer attempts to make a seamless narrative between the two, subtly suggesting they are all part of the same narrative:
Details of Prude’s death were not made public until months later, leading to protests in the city. Several members of the Rochester Police Department command staff were terminated or left the department.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that for a 9-year-old to be pepper-sprayed is OK. It’s not,” interim Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said at a Sunday afternoon news conference.
This isn’t journalism, it’s manipulation.
You can sense a kind of emotional pump-and-dump by left-wing non-profits, pundits, and politicians who have been engaged in demonizing police and police work for several years. The article captures none of that missing context, and offers nothing in the way of objectivity so as to present the challenges police face in these kind of encounters. It’s unbalanced because it only considers the point of view of the writer: that using pepper spray on a juvenile is never acceptable.
You can see the effect of this culture and the way in which these articles are written as passion-enhancers rather than journalism in the outlandish comments on the NPR article’s Facebook page with such comments, generally paraphrased, as:
- The officers need to be fired
- The officers committed child abuse
- The officers are now felons
- The police now need to be defunded
- Police make everything worse
- Police just shoot first and ask questions later
- Police are evil
The piece’s author is Brakkton Booker. Booker might not be a household name, but even on his NPR biography you can notice that he does not cover ‘crime’ as a topic, but rather ‘race’ and ‘politics’ – leading any reasonable reader to question whether or not Mr. Booker is a journalist or merely a left-wing activist. Indeed, Booker highlights his reporting during the Ferguson riots in the summer of 2014, which resulted from some of the most extreme journalistic malpractice of the last decade.
The difference is partially that a crime reporter might be able to give important necessary missing context to the story that explains why police are trained to operate in a certain way and prevent it from becoming unbalanced. Honestly presenting both sides would prevent a superficial investigation, which in this article makes it appear as though Booker either didn’t or couldn’t, watch the video with an unbiased lens. There were so many important things to add to this story, not the least of which are the many laws, Supreme Court and other legal precedents, in addition to state laws, local policies and procedures, putting every police officer on the street in the unenviable position of having to synthesize many rules as they apply to a potentially dangerous situation. It’s notable that these articles never criticize judges or the judiciary which makes the rules and enforces them via criminal and civil litigation.
You can see how a reporter could, given the political climate, tie this kind of story to a variety of larger narratives: juvenile policing, dysfunctional family situations, female violence, but instead it is linked to race. Is that justified by the available facts? Certainly the video does not show anything that would justify it, and so this is definitely a narrative stretch.
Yet the most serious violation in this story is the misrepresentation of presenting the young woman as not resisting, when we can clearly see on the video that she was. When the article says she was crying out as a child, when the video shows a defiant and angry young woman making irrational demands and fighting for her freedom. We can sympathize with her situation without having to invent facts that don’t exist. Mr. Booker apparently cannot.
The fundamental danger in these kind of stories is that they sensationalize an incident without context or facts, and the facts often don’t support the original narrative frame. By the time it comes to add skepticism, doubt, nuance, to many of these stories, the damage has already been done. It took local media 20 days before they finally added a quote from local police to the story, that the pepper spray was indeed justified.  That should have been in the original reporting, along with the honesty about the young girl’s resistance to the police.
We have reached out to Mr. Booker but have not heard back. If he replies, we will update this story with his responses.
Our Rating: 2 = Trash Journalism, aka the Daily Beast.
1 ] https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/218905.pdf
2 ] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/yv-datasheet.pdf
3 ] https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/njcda/pdf/jcs2013.pdf
4 ] https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/10/girls-make-ever-growing-proportion-kids-juvenile-justice-system/
5 ] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2015/03/16/lesson-learned-from-the-shooting-of-michael-brown/
6 ] https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2021/02/23/rochester-ny-police-pepper-spray-9-year-old-girl-harris-street-alexander-lombard/4494943001/
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