The unrest in Ferguson Missouri and across the country continues weeks after Missouri courts decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting an subsequent death of 16-year-old Michael Brown. When the decision was released after 9 p.m. Nov. 3, outlets such as CNN were on the spot, cameras at the ready, with their most recognizable reporters shoving into the midst of the chaos, making sure to capture Chris Cuomo struggling with the physical effects of tear gas being thrown into the crowd.
Clips such Cuomo tearing up trying to continue his broadcast are shown repeatedly to represent the protests in Ferguson. The clip that seems to find its way onto updates and coverage from shows such as The O’Reilly Factor to CNN the most, is that of Brown’s stepfather Louis Head reacting angrily to the court’s decision, yelling “burn this b**** to the ground” amidst a crowd of protestors. The clip is used in a way to provide context for the protests weeks after their start, a placeholder for effective background information and situation summary.
I find fault with this form of exciting coverage and its affect on political communication in a few ways. For one, this discredits one of the main frustrations of the protestors; that they are not given voice in their, and a national, space of opinion. The space of opinion surrounding Ferguson at the moment is overpowered by media giants such as Bill O’Reilly and Wolf Blitzen- neither of whom can speak on behalf of the people of Ferguson. The only representation Fox News and CNN seem to air on behalf of protestors is that of Head calling for violence, a clip removed from context and lasting only a few seconds-yet used to define the reaction none the less. Much of this reflects problems with movements and the identity the present to the media we covered earlier in the semester in Berstein’s piece Celebration and Supression: The Strategic Use of Identity by the Lesbian and Gay Movement, and how a group is defined by the way in which they get media attention.
The second problem I see is that these large media outlets want to apply the violence and unrest to the entire country- but not larger underlying issues such as racism, police brutality and arming and misrepresentation. It seems highly irresponsible to me to simplify the issue to the single situation of anger over a court decision and death, with the implication that the people of Ferguson can communicate only through burning and looting – as though what takes place in front of news cameras (what news cameras chose to show) in its microcosm is the entirely of the situation, conveniently packaged to fit on your television screen, and paired digitally onscreen with similar proceedings in other towns across America. Clearly, there are underling issues here, however few speakers in the space of opinion seem to want to address them without using the violence as a way to direct the conversation away from any kind of large-scale racial tensions that continue to fester in the United States as a prevailing problem, unaddressed. O’Reilly stated on The O’Reilly Factor that the episode has “set back racial relations in this country by decades” however, shouldn’t we be looking at the fact that maybe these “relations” were not where we pretend they are to begin with?
Finally, the media has the ability and key timing right now to invite speakers into the space of opinion in addressing and going deeper into the issue than the shallow surface level reaction to violent rioting. Yet they continue to squander the opportunity by only giving airtime to figures who are the most engaging and TV ready- notably Jesse Jackson and Ferguson police officers defending Warren. Both of these actors in the sphere should be and undoubtedly need to be, given a fair opportunity to speak. However, I find it interesting that the buck seems to stop there with outside opinions. Where are the scholars on racial divides and tensions that color this country? Where are other Ferguson community members outside of the family-who speaks through their lawyer in press gatherings? I find it embarrassing for media outlets that pride themselves on coverage representing the American people that it takes an admitted comedian, Jon Stewart, to conduct an interview with Larry Wilmore address underlying racial issues when covering the incident. To Stewart’s credit, he also did not show video of the protests or of Brown’s stepfather, something CNN seems to be unable to avoid using as a placeholder “re-cap” of the “situation” in Ferguson.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s