Straw-man journalism


I have a bone to pick with the Reno newspaper.

In an article that alleges to “fact check” things (a regular feature, I guess), the paper tried to answer whether “police brutality toward black people today is rare.”

Legitimate inquiry, I think. But I was surprised to find out that the newspaper used a tweet of mine to launch the inquiry. More surprising still is they made it look like I asserted that police brutality toward black people is rare.

Of course, the writer of the piece took off on the “fact check” without ever contacting me. (Some fact checker.)

I asked the question via Twitter after reading an op-ed piece in the Washington Post in which an officer used the death in Ferguson, MO., to say that if you bull-rush a police officer — no matter what else happened and no matter what the color of your skin — you will get hurt.

Since a good many people have already rushed to judgment on the Ferguson case to say that it is an unrighteous shooting — and since some of the information made public as of now indicate that it MAY be a justified shooting — it seemed like a good question to ask at the time. How often do these kind of national events get portrayed one way, but when the facts come forward it ends up being different?

I am writing a column for Sunday that touches on this rush-to-judgment topic, BTW. Please tune in.

My full tweet was this: “Possible #Ferguson lesson: Escalated police brutality toward blacks today are rare, not commonplace. Residual fear of a bygone era.”

I should have put a question mark at the end, but tweets are tweets and often done on the fly. Besides the context makes it clear it’s a question.

But the Reno fact-checker unfairly quoted the tweet this way: “Former Las Vegas Review-Journal publisher Sherman Frederick tweeted this past week: ‘Escalated police brutality toward blacks today are (sic) rare, not commonplace. Residual fear of a bygone era.’

I mean, seriously, tweets are limited to 140 characters. Is the Reno paper so tight it can’t use the whole tweet? Or, was the whole tweet too inconvenient for the bias of the writer?

There’s quite a difference between saying a “possible #Ferguson lesson” is police brutality is rare and writing I flat-out said “police brutality is rare”.

But, like I said at the beginning, I think that is a legitimate question. I don’t know the answer to it. And, believe me, judging from the shoddy piece from in the Reno paper the writer of the Reno “fact check” doesn’t know either.

His piece just cites anecdotal evidence of brutality and then concludes that today many black people still believe brutality exists.

Well, no kidding, Sherlock. You think?

Look, I have no problem with the Reno newspaper trying to answer the question. But, first, don’t tee me up as a racist; and second, don’t pretend like you answered the question when you did nothing of the sort. You just used it as an excuse to build up and then knock down a straw-man argument of your own invention.

Do yourself a favor, Mr. Fact Checker: Have the courtesy to call the person you plan to unfairly tee up as a racist and, if you can possibly manage it, try to use the whole freaknin’ quote, not just the part that reinforces your biases.