The Media’s Oppression Narrative: Portsmouth Edition

Portsmouth City Manager L. Pettis Patton (left) and former police chief Tonya Chapman.

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.

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30 responses to “The Media’s Oppression Narrative: Portsmouth Edition

  1. It is a disservice for media to report or comment on personnel matters when they’ve received info from only one side of the employment arrangement. An employee may be African-American AND incompetent. An employer may be racist and dysfunctional, but I can’t imagine writing coverage based solely on one perspective.
    Chapman has made herself teflon. Same thing Theresa Sullivan did at UVA, knowing that the Board of Visitors was legally unable to provide any info about her personnel records.
    I would also point out that Portsmouth enjoys one of the most integrated municipal administrations and governing representation in Virginia and has for decades.

  2. Chapman posted her statement on Facebook. You can read the full statement, rather than just the media’s rendering of it, here.

  3. So after the Mueller fiasco, why would anyone trust anything written by the New York Times or the Washington Post? Bernie Madoff, Dick Nixon and Bill Clinton have more credibility! I suspect reporters and columnists are now struggling to keep their public trust levels above ax murderers. And I don’t care for Donald Trump.

  4. Who was behind Chapman’s forced resignation? Here is what she says:

    “I cannot provide additional information on the reason for my sudden departure. However, based on experiences I have endured over the past few years, I can certainly conjecture and so can you. As previously stated, there are members of a highly influential fraternal organization that have tried to generate a vote of “no confidence” on me for the past 2+ years without success, as they have not been able to articulate valid reasons. Some of these individuals recently received discipline for policy violations.”

    Reading between the lines. Here’s what Chapman seems to be suggesting: multiple individuals were disciplined for “policy violations.” Apparently, these individuals felt that they were unjustly treated and complained to the Portsmouth Fraternal Order of Police. The police union then exercised its influence with who… City Council members?… who then leaned on the City Manager to dump Chapman.

  5. Always thought the Dems/Liberals were overreaching on the “collusion” issue; they desperately wanted “something”, .. “anything” that would seriously maim Trump and they have some secret cheering from some on the right.

    Always thought it was curious that there is no “right leaning” media and all of it is leftist MSM. You got al these guys like Koch, Adelson, Mercert, etc who could easily fund some right-leaning media so why is it that it’s all on FOX News and Brietbart? Why is that?

    Finally, we have lots of right-leaning folks who _say_ they don’t like Trump but they will defend him to the death anyhow…. methinks there is some daylight between “saying” you don’t “like” and what you actually do support. Come on, it’s okay to admit you like Trump more than you hate him… really… 😉

    So…it’s Trump and the GOPs to lose… let’s see if they know to not grab defeat from the jaws of victory… start with Health Care…

  6. The knee jerking on this blog is really getting out of control. Why won’t the Post and Times report “why” she was forced out? Well, gee whiz, that’s because no one will say — not the city, not the city manager, not the various police organizations. She has given some reasons in her statement. Now if I were an editor sitting in DC or New York, I might just say, here’s a story about the state’s first African-American police chief and she says she faced institutional racism, faced forced out and no one will talk about it. Should we cover it has best we can or should we just sit on it because the person making the complaint if an Africa-American female and we don’t want to go off the deep end in some racially tinged hunt. That might be what would happen on a little newspaper down in Virginia somewhere. But not in DC or NYC.

    I have no idea what the situation is at the Portsmouth PD today but I do remember what it was like in 1973. I was a summer intern at the Pilot. The State Police was announcing a major crackdown on the narcotics and vice squads of PPD for taking bribes, drugs, sexual favors, selling information and other misdeeds. It was so bad that no other police department in Tidewater would share intelligence with them. This was much more “the Wire” than Andy Griffith.

    Lastly, I say kudos for the Post and Times for having done a great job for their aggressive coverage of the Trump Administration which so far has proven to be one of the most corrupt ever. How many people have been charged? How has Trump benefited from his government service? How about the Trump hotel a few blocks from the White House. As far as Meuller, we haven’t read his report yet. All we have is a short summation of Trump’s Atty. Gen. And this bespeaks some great fraud by the MSM? Get real! Bacon, get a life!

  7. The woman was brought in from the outside to sit on a powder keg and see if she could defuse it. Three years later she had not done so, perhaps her fault, perhaps not. But the bosses decided to make a change because the problem persisted, and firing everybody else might not have been a better option. She chose, for whatever reasons of her own, to push the media’s buttons on her way out the door, so unlike Jim I am neither surprised nor dismayed that she got the reaction she hoped for. I doubt it will work out well for her, should she seek another similar post. It probably won’t help the next person who needs to deal with the situation, clearly toxic. It has nothing to do with Trump nor with the national media’s two-year wet dream that it was going to avenge HRC.

    Lesson I take? Facebook makes people stupid. (Commenting on Bacon’s Rebellion is more risk than I should take, probably.)

    • Steve raises a valid point. After a controversial incident in which a white cop killed a black kid, who was armed but arguably not presenting a clear and present danger, racial tensions in Portsmouth were fraught. Chapman had a very difficult job. At least initially, she praised the white cop as a hero. (I’m not sure what happened later.) She could have turned the incident into a racial issue but didn’t — at least not at first. There appear to be many layers of complexity to this story, many of which remain obscure.

      To reiterate, my problem isn’t with Chapman. My problem is with the media that forced a complicated story, the full dimensions of which are not yet known, into a simple-minded narrative. If all the facts are known, perhaps Chapman’s allegations will prove justified. Perhaps not. We don’t have all the facts, and responsible journalists should very careful how they frame such a story.

      • I agree, Jim.

        I cannot imagine a tougher job than being a police chief in one of America’s urban areas today. They must deal on the front lines with the troubles that others create. Today, those troubles are increasingly created by forces far outside the police chief’s power to control or influence, whether they be reckless acts of today’s demagogic politicians, an irresponsible and inflammatory press, or instantaneous communications of all sorts that, in an instant, can blow up a minor non event into a national scandal. Too often the police chief is dropped into such an instant crisis, including one that goes on for months, years even. What a pressure cooker world they must inhabit, one as endlessly complex and confounding as human nature itself.

        This Portsmouth story and its ilk done properly would require months of work on site, with people intimately familiar with the neighborhood, players, facts and issues. Even then, it would have be be a very long, detailed and thorough article, one very difficult to write, before it could have a chance to be fair and close to right. It’s not a story that can written under today’s 4 hour deadline.

  8. This story brings to my mind the Charlottesville’s police chief who lost his job after the riots of the summer of 2017. Yes, on his watch, there was a debacle. At the same time, never was a man handed a more stacked and corrupt deck of cards than that police chief and, despite it all, he left with dignity. I greatly admire him for that. Exiting, he so easily could have made matters far worse.

    I don’t know enough about this Portsmouth case to comment on it.

    There are however some time tested rules about leadership. If a leader fails to gain the trust of his command, and his command fails as a result, the leader is always the one at fault. A leader who loses the trust of his command, and can’t regain it, has by definition failed in his or her job’s central responsibility, to lead his or her people to success. Often appointed leaders are not up to their particular job. It’s not an automatic cause for shame. Just a time to move on, and let someone else do the job.

    But for a leader to walk out the door scapegoating others is a cause for shame. That leader always has failed. However unfortunate, such behavior is common as mud. Generals and admiral are no more immune than corporals. Indeed the generals and Admirals are often more inclined, to such dishonor. Indeed, they build false reputations and careers around their dishonor. Hence, my respect for Charlottesville’s police chief in the summer of 2017.

    Regarding the actions of the Washington Post and New Times on this story. My disgust with both newspapers could not go deeper. These newspapers are rife with incompetence. Plagues on our nation far too often today than not, and they have not the character for any shame at all.

  9. As for the “two years of false collusion narrative” I’ll take Margaret Sullivan’s verdict: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/serious-journalists-should-be-proud-of–not-bullied-over–their-russia-reporting/2019/03/25/4adbe146-4ef0-11e9-a3f7-78b7525a8d5f_story.html
    Yes I know who she works for. But the indictments which HAVE trickled down from are more than an embarrassment for the man at the center of it all. He was surrounded by sleaze. Should we not care? Should we not seek to dig further into the facts? Should we also ignore the loathing his contempt leaves in his wake? We talk about declining standards of journalism, the erosion of fact-based reporting, the collapse of media oversight over local government, yet you dump on two of the MSM institutions that have attempted to report the facts from Portsmouth ‘as best [they] can’ simply because they lacked complete disclosure. I don’t excuse that either, but which is worse, biased reporting, incomplete reporting, or no reporting at all?

    • Acbar –

      You and I see things differently on some issues. This is one of them. So how do I answer this very fair question of yours:

      “yet you dump on two of the MSM institutions that have attempted to report the facts from Portsmouth ‘as best [they] can’ simply because they lacked complete disclosure. I don’t excuse that either, but which is worse, biased reporting, incomplete reporting, or no reporting at all?”

      Recall a year or two ago I went on my own little personal rampage against what had been my Go To newspaper, the Wall Street Journal. Never, ever, have I witnessed a great newspaper plummet into garbage news so fast, nothing but breathless rumor mongering agenda reporting in search of clicks.

      At the time I explained here how tossing out the Washington Post in around 2012 from exasperation after reading it for more than 50 years, my tossing out of the WSJ was a very painful act. I had continuing respect for a dwindling number of features, reporters, and columnists, and news at both papers.

      But Acbar, I had no choice. For me newspapers are very serious business, like guests in my house. Except here I depend on their news to tell me what is going on in the real world, not what tumbles around inside their reporters’ phobias, bias, hates and emotions whipped up inside the hothouse of DC’s beltway. So why spend one’s limited time on rumor mongers, dissemblers, deceivers, bearers of false witness, fabricators, equivocators, prevaricators, and yarn spinners? It only confuses one, gets in the way of clarity. I don’t.

      So I tossed overboard the WSJ too, and took up with AXIOS, and concentrated on my books and wonderfully curated stable of long reads.

      It was not easy Acbar. My wife reading the post each morning beside me. After some 6 months AXIOS proved yet just another click bait operation, despite the high intelligence of those who write for it. Out went AXIOS.

      There I sat, left with my books and long reads, while my wife with her infernal Post sat daily right beside me reading the O’bits. After a year or so, I came across a report that the WJS had cleaned up its act, tossing out malfeasors who had earlier migrated north to New York from you know where, in DC. That explained everything. Soon thereafter, as if by magic, an offer came in the mail from WSJ. A bargain deal delivered six day a week to my door.

      I took a chance. And I’ve never looked back. The WSJ, Acbar, has done an remarkable turn around. Just as good in all respects as before, indeed even better in some respects.

      So now to answer your question: “I don’t excuse that either, but which is worse, biased reporting, incomplete reporting, or no reporting at all?”

      The answer is don’t settle for “biased reporting, incomplete reporting, or no reporting at all.” You can read the Wall Street Journal instead. And, in my case, do it with the added reward of knowing that even at an advanced age, one can still tell the difference between good reporting and bad.

  10. Acbar,
    No offense but I do take offense when people like you come after journalists. Yes, the industry suffers. Why? The loss of at least 43,000 jobs. Why? Greedy corporate management and The Internet. How do I know this? I have been a proud journalist for 45 years. And I have worked overseas and know many of my brothers and sisters who have been killed covering wars or were otherwise murdered. So, in other words, Acbar, when it comes to your comments on the decline of journalism, you can kiss my ass.
    Sincerely,
    Peter Galuszka

    • I read Acbar’s comment as fairly supportive of the reporting on Trump and Russia…Might have read that through twice before exploding, Peter…

      Greedy management notwithstanding, the multiple competitive sources have killed both newspapers and broadcast news outlets, and the audience just went elsewhere. Then there is the rise of partisan fake news on both sides of the spectrum. Neither of my kids subscribes to a newspaper or regularly watches local teevee or national teevee news. One does surf the net for some news, the other didn’t even know about the 737 crash until we mentioned it….

    • Dear Peter, perhaps I was too subtle. It was JB who used the phrase “two years of false collusion narrative” — emphasis on “false” — which offended me no end. I disagree with Jim, along the lines of the Margaret Sullivan article cited (and the wonderful WaPo op-ed by Kelly-Ann Conway’s husband, George, a couple of days later): legal guilt is not the point of the “narrative”; irredeemably-unbecoming behavior is, and that alone justifies the reporting. I was defending the MSM, without which we have not even a nod to journalistic standards or a common factual basis for discussion. Which SH picked up on, even if you didn’t. I too have children who simply don’t follow the news, despite being raised in a household where the PBS Newshour was standard fare. The self-selection of information silos on the web, the decline of local broad-coverage media, scares me.

      Reed, we sometimes disagree but in thought provoking ways. I was raised never to trust a single source of the news but to look for a consensus, and when it was not there, to respect most those media which persist in exploring murky facts or proved correct in hindsight. The WaPo is one such, but only one; in fact I subscribe to the WSJ also and double up on them as often as time allows. The WaPo has way too much editorial content embedded in its news coverage for my comfort level. But, so does the WSJ. They are different perspectives — both necessary. And the Post is my local paper; in fact I usually start with the Metro section; the WSJ’s coverage of things New York occasionally sheds light on DC urban issues but often strikes me as shameless pandering to the tastes and consumer choices of the super-wealthy. But overshadowing that these days is my visceral dislike of the President as a person. He has no guiding philosophy except greed, no respect for history, for institutions, for other people — he is crass, crude, corrupt, a train-wreck. Perhaps, by accident, he occasionally promotes a policy or nominates someone for office that I actually agree with, but not often enough to excuse the cost. And in the process he has disgraced a political party born out of social idealism to rid this country of its greatest inconsistency, a party I used to respect for its ability to act as a cautionary practical restraint, a nuanced brake, on the excesses of the liberal mind. So, when it comes to the MSM, I admit to confirmation bias, despite making a determined effort to question it.

      Jim also describes the MSM’s treatment of the “witch hunt” thus: “It was disgraceful how reporters from multiple outlets acted as transcribers of leaks from senior officials in the FBI, DOJ and intelligence agencies with partisan agendas, never questioned the veracity of the information they were getting, cloaked their sources in anonymity, and never notified readers of their partisan agendas.” He has a point! It’s bad enough for me, a consumer of the news, to fight confirmation bias; but what happens when the MSM itself fails to police itself in that regard? They have more than a reputation to lose.

      Sometimes, Peter, Reed, Steve, Jim, I think we are all deserving of the label “elitest” — simply because we dare raise such questions about the media and about journalism. If so I’ll wear that epithet like a badge of honor.

      • Acbar – I generally agree with your statement above. Where I draw the line in when newspapers launch phony campaigns wherein their reporters deliberately twist and custom rig the news per internal campaigns designed and built by senior editors to promote the political agendas of those senior editors. And these campaigns are disguised as news to fool their readers. The Washington Post has a file full of examples of this activity that was uncovered by me, and reported to them in writing by me.

  11. Steve and Acbar,
    I apologize for going over the top but I am proud to still be a journalist. And I get get sick and tired of the usual (typically conservative) putdowns of what I consider a worthy profession. I still believe that a free press is key to a democracy and I do not just base this on on Virginia but overseas where one is much more likely to be wounded, kidnapped or murdered for their reporting. This never comes up among the usual right-wing set on this blog which is one reason why I have had doubts about trying to return. I get kind of pissed. I have been sued in ridiculous suits. I have dodged bullets (not really meant for me). And I am just freaking sick of people like Bacon who have never worked outside of Virginia telling us all what it is really like.

    • Peter, of course a free press is a foundation of our democracy. I’d rather have a biased press than no free press at all. But the fact that a free press is essential to our way of life does not exempt that press from criticism. When the media figures are biased as hell and totally screw up, they deserve to be called out.

      It was disgraceful how reporters from multiple outlets acted as transcribers of leaks from senior officials in the FBI, DOJ and intelligence agencies with partisan agendas, never questioned the veracity of the information they were getting, cloaked their sources in anonymity, and never notified readers of their partisan agendas. I can’t believe you would defend such a practice — especially now that the stories have been proven to be demonstrable B.S. — and I don’t care how many friggin’ foreign countries you served in and how many friggin’ bullets you dodged. Journalistic malpractice is journalistic malpractice.

      • I agree totally. The press has gotten a free ride to the point now where it threatens our system of government and culture, just as much as to does the irresponsible conduct of our nation’s universities. If we do not speak up forcefully now, at the rate we are going, the press and universities will lead us to irrevocable ruin. My God, look at where we are now. The press has all but criminalized the political process. The universities are doing the same thing with the free thought and speech of students and citizens, not to mention their ongoing destruction of the pillars of our society, whether it be history, tradition, marriage, church or the cohesion of our communities and their institutions.

  12. Jim and Reed,
    You both are hoots! A vigorous free press is a threat to democracy. Students at UVA aren’t required to wear coats and ties to class any more (no women of course!).This leads to hook up gang rapes as if sex had been earlier unknown on college campuses. It is it Boomergeddon yet?

  13. It must be Boomergeddon, because the first thing I look for in every morning’s daily rag is the medical advice column…..

  14. I was planning to stay out of this discussion, but I can’t anymore. I have not had the pleasure of working with Peter, but I agree with his fundamental position, if not all his rhetoric.

    As for the WP and NYT, Jim, show me the “stories have been proven to be demonstrable B.S.” Many, many stories they published, based on tips, were denied over and over by the administration and called “fake news”, only later to be admitted to. Prime example: the meeting with a Russian operative to “get dirt on Hilary”. Most of this we would not have known without digging by those newspapers. And, in the few cases in which they were wrong or their sources were bad, they admitted it.

    We have not seen the Mueller report; we may never get to see it. Just because Mueller supposedly did not find sufficient evidence to warrant criminal collusion or coordination charges does not mean that the reporting that went on was BS. Without the WP and the NYT and others like them, we would be left with Fox News. Enough said.

  15. And how much play will this get in the Post?

    https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/435029-as-russia-collusion-fades-ukrainian-plot-to-help-clinton-emerges

    Probably as much follow up as is given to Virginia’s racist governor who spent the 2017 campaign calling his opponent a racist. The Post could close tomorrow and wouldn’t affect my life at all. But then I wouldn’t have read either Vőlkischer Beobachter or Der Angriff had I lived in 1930s Germany.

  16. Look for Jussie Smollett in Washington Posts top stories today. Zip.

    What happened? It is a hate hoax. Is not this the Washington Post’s favorite story. The kind of story they jump on every time to smear people like the 17 year old white kids from Covington, Kentucky wearing MAGA hats, waiting for a bus in DC.

    Why does the Washington Post invent stories like this to smear kids when they have the Jussie Smollett whitewash, allegely done at request of Progressive people in high places to force the Federal Department of Justice of a Republican Administration to enforce the law and prosecute the case against the black man instead. Was this maneuver done for corrupt political advantage? Should not the Post be interested. What does the Washingon Post do? It pushes the story off its front page to make yet more room of Rachel Maddow, celebrated now by the Post as “The Queen of Collusion (who) isn’t backing down,” a story written by Paul Farhi, the Washington Post’s best reporter by far. Even Paul has gone overboard. Why is not the Post now an official agent of the Democratic Party? There’s a real collusion story.

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