Thanks to the release of the Mueller report, we now know that the national media utterly disgraced itself over two years by pushing an unfounded conspiracy theory about President Trump’s collusion with Russians. Now maybe it’s time to focus on the media’s role in perpetuating the narrative of endemic racism. The latest example: coverage by the Washington Post and the New York Times over the forced resignation of Tonya Chapman, the city of Portsmouth’s black police chief.
Both newspapers gave extensive and uncritical coverage of a statement Chapman issued yesterday attributing her ouster to resistance to her attempts to overhaul a department riven by racial tension. Before arriving in Portsmouth in 2016, she said, she had “never witnessed the degree of systemic bias and acts of systemic racism, discriminatory practices and abuse of authority in all of my almost 30 year career in law enforcement and public safety.” Some officers, she said, “quite frankly did not like taking direction from an African American female.”
I have no idea of what the reality of the situation was in Portsmouth. Perhaps Chapman fell victim to racist white police officers who resented the leadership of a black woman. Perhaps she was railroaded by City Council. Or, conversely, perhaps she is one of those people who interpret every encounter through the prism of race and gender. Perhaps she stirred up resentment by maligning those who opposed her actions as racists and sexists. Either explanation is theoretically possible.
The issue I am raising here is not the reality of what happened, but how the Post and Times approached an issue of extraordinary delicacy and sensitivity.
Both the Post’s Rachel Weiner and the Times‘ Liam Stack quoted Chapman extensively while making only token efforts to solicit other perspectives.
Wrote the Post:
Chapman said she came to Portsmouth aware of “external strife” between police and residents in the majority-black coastal city, particularly in the wake of the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white officer in 2015. But she said it was the officer’s conviction on manslaughter charges the following year that revealed to her the depth of “racial tensions within the police department” as well.
Some of what she observed, she said, is “so inflammatory” that she would not detail it in her letter “out of concern for public safety.” But she said she would share specific information with appropriate government agencies.
Most officers, she said, welcomed her efforts to “change this culture.” But a contingent did not, she said, including members of the influential police union that had been disciplined for policy violations.
“There were officers in the department who . . . did not want me to hold them accountable for their actions,” she wrote. “Some quite frankly did not like taking direction from an African American female.”
The Times also offered this quote from Chapman:
“My goal was to develop a highly ethical, high performing organization that embraces diversity and treats everyone with respect and dignity,” she wrote. Recently, she said, some of her opponents in that effort “were dealt with in accordance within the disciplinary policies of the Portsmouth Police Department.”
The Post tried perfunctorily to reach the Portsmouth Fraternal Order of Police — presumably on deadline — noting that the organization “did not immediately return a request for comment.” Both the Post and the Times noted that a police department spokeswoman “declined to comment” — as anyone could have predicted, given that police department spokespersons never comment on personnel matters. The Times also elicited a “no comment” quote from a spokeswoman from the City of Portsmouth, who also noted that the city does not comment on personnel matters.
But the Post did manage to track down James Boyd, president of the Portsmouth chapter of the NAACP. Without offering evidence of any kind, Boyd said that Chapman “is a victim of a severe system of racism inside the Portsmouth Police Department, inside the governing structure of the city as a whole.”
Bacon’s bottom line: It’s not as if Portsmouth, Va., is in the circulation zone of either the Post or the Times, so it’s hard to see a sense of urgency in getting the news out. Why the rush to publish such inflammatory accusations without making more than a pro forma effort to get the other side of the story?
An obvious question arises: Why was Chapman forced to resign in the first place? The Washington Post fails to address the point at all. You can read the entire story without an answer to the most basic of questions.
Credit the Times at least for at least acknowledging the question two-thirds of the way down the article, although it reflects only Chapman’s perspective:
Ms. Chapman said her tenure as police chief came to an abrupt end because her opponents on the force appeared to have succeeded in influencing the city manager, L. Pettis Patton. The city manager, whom Ms. Chapman described in her statement as “a mentor and a mother figure to me,” did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Monday.
The former chief said she was summoned last week to Dr. Patton’s office, where the city manager read her a written statement that said she had lost the confidence of the Police Department. Ms. Chapman said the city manager then threatened to fire her if she did not resign, which would allow her to collect two months of severance pay.
What the Times omits from the article is that City Manager Patton is black, or that three of the city’s seven city council members are black (although a photograph accompanying the article does show both Chapman and Patton). How likely is it that city officials, who were progressive enough in their thinking to appoint a black woman as police chief, would turn around and allow her to be railroaded from her position by a bunch of racist white cops? How likely is it that Patton, a mentor and mother figure to Chapman, would have compelled her resignation unless dissatisfaction within police ranks was rampant? Remember, we are getting only Chapman’s side of the story here, not Patton’s. Patton, following standard procedure, cannot comment on personnel matters.
Now ask yourself a question: What would have happened if the Portsmouth police union had issued inflammatory statements accusing Chapman of reverse racism without offering a scintilla of evidence? Would the Post and Times have covered an obscure story emanating from Portsmouth, Va.? Would they have extensively published vague, racially charged accusations from the union without incorporating other viewpoints? Would they have abandoned any pretense of journalistic balance? Of course not! That would never happen.
Two of the three most important newspapers in the United States (the third being the Wall Street Journal) — along with many local newspapers — have dedicated themselves to perpetuating the Oppression Narrative, and they have set ludicrously low journalistic standards for airing accusations of racism. The Trump-Russia Collusion narrative was damaging enough. But at least there is an end to it. But the Oppression Narrative is far more damaging — it is tearing our country apart. And there is no Mueller investigation to determine its veracity or falsehood.There are currently no comments highlighted.