Media Musings From Cincinnati and Beyond

St. Louis County prosecutors finally dropped phony charges against two reporters covering unrest two years ago in Ferguson, Mo. In exchange, the reporters promised not to sue the cops.

St. Louis County prosecutors finally dropped phony charges against two reporters covering unrest two years ago in Ferguson, Mo. In exchange, the reporters promised not to sue the cops.

One of the journalists, Ryan Reilly, however, said they might have pled out if their legal bills weren’t paid by their employers, Huffington Post and the Washington Post. Having wealthy employers helped, but so did the welcome turnabout by the media-hostile Obama administration when the attorney general sided with the reporters.

The charges were “trespassing” in a McDonald’s where they were customers and “interference” with the duties of the police officers who forcefully took the reporters into custody. It was a classic case of authorities intimidating reporters and getting away with it.

Here’s part of Reilly’s Huffington Post story:

“The manager of the McDonald’s never asked us to leave (let alone be arrested) and welcomed us back to the restaurant on many occasions.

“The evidence made clear what had happened: Stressed-out officers who didn’t want their actions recorded had decided to lash out at a couple of reporters. ... But prosecutors endorsed the ridiculous theory — which the police pushed — that two journalists recording the actions of police officers in a fast food restaurant ‘directly contributed’ to the civil unrest in Ferguson in August 2014.”

Then it goes from dumb to dumber. Reilly said the cops involved in his arrest, then-Ferguson officer Justin Cosma and St. Louis County Sgt. Michael McCann, had plenty of time to get their stories straight.

However, eight months later, when the cops were interviewed by investigators, “they couldn’t even agree on who arrested me: Each claimed he was only assisting the other. Sgt. McCann slammed my head on the door while I was in handcuffs and then lied about doing so in the internal investigation of his conduct, which could have resulted in a federal civil rights charge.” 

Reilly rejected a plea deal because it “would have legitimized bogus arrests and provided cover for officers who violated our rights and engaged in misconduct.”

• The glowing photo in Saturday’s Enquirer showed happy Pam Baker and the longtime British pen pal she is marrying. No problem there, but the byline on the cover story was “Pam Baker/Enquirer contributor.” Coincidence? Same person? You guess.

• Economics killed another American daily: the 123-year-old Tampa Tribune. The competing Tampa Bay Times aka St. Petersburg Times bought and closed it earlier this month. 

“It’s very hard for a metro area of this size to sustain two newspapers,” Paul C. Tash, chairman and chief executive of the more affluent Tampa Bay Times, told the New York Times. “The competition between the two newspapers was putting us both in peril.”

• In Texas, the Buckle on the Conservative Chastity Belt, howlers are huge. The state Republican Party adopted its 2016 platform, including this: “Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that has (sic) been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nations (sic) founders, and shared by the majority of Texans.” 

Texas Monthly, NPR and others note that, as written and punctuated, it says most Texans are gay. Maybe Texas school board members — absorbed for so long in cleansing textbooks of evolution — ignored the state’s shitty instruction in grammar. 

“If this is indeed a grammatical error, it could be the Texas GOP’s biggest and most embarrassing since the anti-gay marriage amendment of 2005, which actually read as though it banned ALL marriages,” added

• It’s a mystery how ennui can strike an entire command structure at what is probably America’s most closely edited daily. My evidence: Sunday’s USA Today section in the Enquirer with the headline, “Three villagers die as volcano erupts in Western Indonesia.”

Three villagers? Not three “villages?” Big deal. How this even made the international news chain to reach USA Today is another mystery. That’s close to “Dog bites man.”
• Jeremiahs who bemoan every news story that doesn’t reflect their glowing, sanitized image of the Queen City found something new to complain about in the Monday (May 23) top story on page 1 of the New York Times. It was a story on shootings with multiple dead and/or wounded. 

It wasn’t about Pike County. The dateline was Cincinnati. The focus — example of a national problem — was an Elks Lodge a year ago. And the headline over the team reporting was “Unending but unheard, the echo of gun violence.” Below that, the subhead was “Numbing frequency: 358 shootings with 4 or more casualties in ’15.” 

• The lethal Indonesian volcanic explosion reminds me of an inescapable factor in news judgment: nationalism. That’s why early stories about airline crashes — think the latest Egyptair disaster — say how many passengers and crew came from each country, and subsequent stories to each country identify its passengers by name. It’s why the Enquirer knew and reported a P&G employee was on the lost Airbus 320.

The boring USA Today headline also reminds me of a cable that UPI in London received from an Indonesian stringer that said “one American” and a couple thousand Indonesians died in a volcanic eruption. That’s nationalism. UPI was an American news service. The stringer knew his client. One American elevated a mundane story, at least on the London general desk, which winnowed stories from Europe, Africa and much of Asia before sending any on to New York for distribution to UPI clients in the ‘States. 

• Conservative columnist Simon Heffer writing in London’s Telegraph nails American conservative columnist George Will, saying Will “voiced the contempt of the Republican political elite by urging Mr. (Donald) Trump to be defeated in all 50 states of the Union. Full marks to him for candour. But Mr. Will seems not to realize how much he and the Republicans he has endorsed in recent years have made the Trump phenomenon possible.” 

• For months, the conservative Weekly Standard has been calling on Republicans to stop Donald Trump. Among the erratic billionaire’s sins is the simple fact that he is not a conservative. 

For editor William Kristol, Trump is so bad for conservatives — read America — that Weekly Standard equates him with Hillary Clinton as “manifestly among the worst presidential candidates ever to be presented to the American people by their respective parties.”

And agreeing with fellow traveler Simon Heffer (mentioned above), insider Kristol says the “political class and pundit elites” are “nothing if not old and tired.” Kristol could have added, “I resemble that remark.”

CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]

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