If there is one thing I’ve learned about media firestorms in the modern age of one-hour news cycles and 15-second attention spans, it’s that whoever tells the first story which the news media likes is the “winner.” Once the narrative is set in stone (when the news media works in unison that takes about two days, tops), the truth will face a battle that is severely uphill, into the wind, on ice, and will almost never prevail.
There was no better example of this sad reality than the “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” myth which drove the entire Ferguson fiasco and was the origin of the entire “Black Lives Matter” movement. Every investigation into the matter (including by the Obama administration) later concluded, against self-interest, that this catchphrase was based on an obvious and despicable lie. However, even that did almost nothing to alter public perceptions of that event or the media’s eagerness to give instant credibility to similar claims from the same groups in the future.
Since then we have seen other racially-charged situations where the initial narrative pitched by protest groups and embraced by the news media have fallen apart under greater scrutiny. The most outrageous among them seems to be the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore, where it now appears that a prosecutor condemned police without nearly enough evidence (or even a coherent theory) to get any convictions, even after the city had already rioted and paid Grey’s family a huge settlement.
This leads us to the two incidents which have suddenly reignited the issue of police shootings of black men and which appears to have inspired a black man to assassinate five innocent Dallas police officers and injure several others.
The horrific killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge was caught on tape by multiple sources and certainly looks to be unjustified (though why can’t we wait long enough to let an actual investigation decide that for sure?). I completely get the anger and outrage over it. But make no mistake, without it being immediately followed by the shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota, I seriously doubt that we would have seen the chain of explosive events which have followed.
One episode can be an aberration. Two on top of one another, both with unprecedented video components, is just too much for the protestors and the media to resist turning into a trend. (Though, what exactly is the theory of the Black Lives Matter protestors? That a nationwide memo went out to police saying that it was time to start killing innocent black men again?!)
But what if the second episode wasn’t anything like what we were told it was? Regardless, of how much the news media will try to ignore it, in Minnesota we are seeing all the markings of a largely false narrative that may very well not hold up under reasonable inspection.
Thanks to the incredibly dramatic live “broadcast” of Castile’s death on Facebook, an already emotionally-charged issue has become one where there is extreme hesitancy to even publicly question the narrative which it helped birth. This version of events was further legitimized when the white, male, liberal governor of Minnesota immediately and shamefully declared, very much in his own self-interest, that race was what provoked the killing.
The media’s narrative is based on the notion that a routine traffic stop led to a black man being shot multiple times and killed, seemingly with a woman and child in the car with him. There was a gun in the car, but we are told by the woman that Castile explained that he had a permit to carry such a weapon (though there has been no clear confirmation that such a permit existed).
However, it is now obvious from audio recordings of the police scanner that the police officer (who, for whatever it is worth, is not “white”) pulled Castile over, not due to a broken tail light, but because he thought Castile matched the description of an armed robbery suspect. This obviously sheds a completely different light on the possible scenarios which led to the officer firing his weapon and, had it been known immediately, very well would have radically shifted the storyline and staved off a universal rush to judgement (and maybe even the Dallas attacks?).
The question of whether Castile actually WAS the suspect in the armed robbery, partly due to the media’s best efforts to pretend that he wasn’t, is less clear (obviously this wouldn’t alter the police officer’s mindset, but certainly might Castile’s).
Based on security photos, Castile indeed does meet the general description of the suspect but they are hardly definitive. More interestingly (though still not at all conclusive) is that the suspect’s shoes appear similar to those worn by Castile in a Facebook posting and his girlfriend is on video smoking the very brand of cigarettes that were stolen in the robbery in question. But to me, the best “evidence” that Castile might have been the actual suspect is that, despite the photos now getting huge amounts of publicity, the “real” suspect has still yet to be identified.
Again, none of this remotely proves that Castile was indeed the armed robbery suspect. The point is that there is a potentially very compelling other side of this story which is being ignored or ridiculed by the media which is already very invested in the current narrative.
One of the best examples of this is the “fact check” website “Snopes,” which, in its typically arrogant and liberal fashion, has definitely declared these “rumors” about Castile to be “false,” while actually doing a pretty good job of establishing that they might actually be true (while also ignoring the significance of what we now know was in the police officer’s mindset). A close reading of their conclusions could best be summed up by saying: “We want this story to be false, so, because it hasn’t yet be proven 100% true by liberal media sources with no incentive to do so, it must be false.”
I have seen many times the power of what happens to media coverage once every new fact is seen through the prism of a false narrative and is impacted by a clear confirmation bias. Everything is then perceived completely differently than it should be, sometimes laughably so. I have literally never seen a more overt example of this frustrating phenomenon than this absurd headline in an Associated Press story about the revelation that Castile had been previously stopped by police an incredible 52 times with 86 citations.
Clearly, in the media’s collective mind, no matter what we find out about Castile, it is going to be portrayed as the fault of the police. That might make for a good story and alleviate any fears of having rushed to an erroneous and destructive conclusion, but that is not the way to get to the truth of this matter.
That still is important, isn’t it?
UPDATE: Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, has now given an interview, with her attorney, to ABC News, in which she seems to radically alter her story about the gun in the car. In her original version she indicated: “As he’s reaching for his back pocket wallet he lets the officer know, ‘Officer, I have a firearm on me.’ I begin to yell, ‘But he’s licensed to carry.’” However, in this interview (in which somehow ABC fails to note the dramatic discrepancy) she says: “[The gun] never came out. It could never be a threat. [Yanez] didn’t ask about it,” she said. “He didn’t know it was on his person.”