Sunday, October 25, 2015

Getting the story "right" not easy for some reporters

A few days ago, a shooting incident occurred in Auburn in which two men were shot while standing near a bus stop. This is how the Seattle Times initially reported the incident:

The shooting happened around 5 p.m. as the father and his two sons sat with some belongings at a bus stop at 17th Street Southeast and B Street Southeast in a neighborhood off A Street, Stocker said. It was unclear why the three were using the bus stop because there’s no route that goes there, and it’s in a construction zone, he (a police spokesperson) said.

The younger, uninjured son, who witnessed the shooting, was being questioned by police. The family apparently lives in the area.

Investigators don’t yet know whether the victims and shooter or shooters knew each other, but it appears the 17-year-old approached the car. Stocker said there may have been some kind of dispute before the shooting.

How are we to interpret this version of events? It is implied here that the victims were up to something unsavory, perhaps a drug deal gone bad. Perhaps they were gang members. Regardless, it is suggested that one of the victims instigated the shooting.

The follow-up story the next day:

A family friend identified Angel Mireles, 19, and his stepfather, 41-year-old Mark Rivera, as the victims of the drive-by shooting.

Kari Frazier said four members of the Rivera family, including the victims, had gathered at her house in Auburn on Tuesday evening to visit before heading home for dinner.

Rivera, Mireles and Rivera’s 13-year-old son, Isaiah, left Kari and James Frazier’s house a few minutes early to grab some items at the store across the street before meeting up with the boys’ mother, Victoria, at a nearby bus stop.

As Victoria Rivera chatted with Kari and her husband, the sharp snap of gunfire sounded outside, Kari Frazier said.

Looking out the bay window in the Fraziers’ living room, the three saw a commotion at the bus stop where Victoria Rivera’s family had agreed to meet, said Frazier.

The Fraziers ran outside — a few steps ahead of Victoria Rivera — and found two of their friends gunned down in a drive-by shooting. Kari Frazier said she could barely recognize Mark Rivera and Angel Mireles because of the blood.

Mireles died at the scene after being shot around 5 p.m. Tuesday; Rivera died at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center on Wednesday.

Isaiah, who witnessed the shooting, was not hurt.

Speaking Wednesday from her home, Kari Frazier’s voice was raspy and full of emotion. She identified members of the Rivera family for The Seattle Times.

She said the Riveras were longtime friends. She met Victoria when the two women volunteered at an Auburn food bank more than a decade ago.

Mark Rivera was a warehouse worker and Victoria a stay-at-home mom, she said. In addition to Angel and Isaiah, the couple have a 15-year-old son and 12-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.

Mireles was the father of a 1-year-old son, who he was raising with his girlfriend, Frazier said. Mireles was the son of Victoria Rivera from a previous relationship.

“This family has been through so much,” Frazier said. “They’re low-income, they’re down on their luck. They’re really good people.”

Now, instead of the barely concealed suggestion that this shooting was gang or crime-related, the victims are given a human face, a hard-working family paying a visit to friends, with a perfectly legitimate reason for why they waiting where they were standing. The next day the paper reported an arrest in the crime:

“A suspect has been arrested and we believe he’s the shooter,” Stocker said. “Our detectives did great work.”

A 19-year-old man was booked into King County Jail early Thursday on investigation of homicide, two counts of assault, unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of a stolen vehicle.

The man arrested has a juvenile criminal history and two felony convictions this year: one for unlawful possession of a firearm and another for taking a vehicle without permission.

The surviving son who witnessed the shooting said the shooter and his girlfriend simply drove up to the victims and apparently began mouthing off, instigating an argument—likely providing a “justification” for the shooter. This shouldn’t be surprising; after all, a man recently pleaded guilty to killing a man who he tried to steal his cell phone, merely because the would-be victim of the theft called 9-1-1, and the killer didn’t want a “witness.” He also completed his theft, but complained that the phone wasn’t “a nice model.” In the present case, it was now reported that Mireles approached the car, and the shooter (still not identified, but police conceded that he did have gang affiliations) pointed a gun at him, at which time Mireles apparently tried to disarm him, but was shot in the head. When the father rushed over, he was shot too, and the younger son was also fired on, but managed to escape. 

The difference between the two reports cannot be explained merely by the fact of follow-up information. The first story was written by Sara Jean Green, with help for her cohort in selective reporting, Jessica Lee. The second story was written by Jennifer Sullivan, apparently with an assist from Green’s reporting from the police blotter. The difference in the “style” and substance of the reporting is striking. Green’s story indicates sloppy, lazy reporting, disinterest and a casual assumptions about males, and apparently stereotypes about certain racial groups. Sullivan, on the other hand, took the time to put a human face on the victims, depriving bigots of making assumptions and prejudices that Green preferred to leave behind. 

You think I’m making that up as I go along? In response to email I wrote about her advocacy “journalism” style that little more than personal opinion than fact, Green wrote back to me in an indignant (to put it gently) huff that she claimed to have seen many horrible crimes committed against women; since women—and white women in particular—are the least likely demographic to victimized by violent crime, it was clear that she is selective in her world view. Perhaps what she had “seen” were shelters for victims of domestic violence, or at least those who claim to be. I once read a story in one of the local weeklies years ago where the writer of an article admitted that of the women in shelters like this were—to put it in the most sympathetic light—“difficult” to be around or otherwise feel empathy for (unless, of course, you believe their stories—as some fanatics did of Jodi Arias’). 

Green also sees prostitutes as “victims,” although the irony, of course, is that it is the prostitutes who are preying on the weakness of a few men for money. But what struck me in particular was the obvious misandrist attitude of Green and her belief in an inflated gender myths, and I suspect her attitude toward the victims of this shooting was “colored” by current stereotypes about Hispanic males. I wrote to an editor about the evidence of the philosophical underpinning of Green’s reporting, and he asked me to send Green’s missive to him. I don’t think Green responds to readers any more—unless, of course, they share her misandrist attitude.

In regard to the Auburn shooting, I felt compelled to send an email to Green commenting on her first report and how much it differed in “outrage” when the victim was a (white) female. I didn’t receive a response, but surprisingly the Times printed another story on the shooting—surprising because the victims were Hispanic—on Friday, of which Green took sole credit. Perhaps also not surprising, Green had another agenda, to “justify” her first report. It began with the “facts” of the case: “Was well-known to police as a “violent street-gang member,” court records show…Froilan Hermenegildo was arrested along with his 16-year-old girlfriend…bail was set at $2 million.” The 13-year-old son who escaped was quoted as saying the shooter simply drove up to the stop they were waiting at, offered some unsolicited commentary that resulted in a “What’s your problem” exchange, eventually leading to the aforementioned final denouement. 

But after those previously reported facts, Green got down to her real business, noting that the shooter is connected to the Rancho San Pedro, a Latino street gang supposedly connected to the “Mexican Mafia,” whatever that is; Green probably just made it up. The RSP is your typical neighborhood gang centered in an impoverished housing project in San Pedro, California, and while it has a history typical of gangs, it isn’t connected to some mythical “Mexican Mafia,” which Green was probably told by someone who also doesn’t know what he or she is talking about.

Furthermore, the suspect is not Latino, but Filipino. Latino gang violence in this state is of a rather lesser degree than that of certain other demographics, and this particularly violent character is likely the kind who because he was Asian and not Latino, thought it would improve his street “cred” by being more violent, out-of-control and conscious of “respect”—just another word for inspiring suitable “fear” in another person. Green’s is obviously out of her league when it comes to thinking outside her insular, self-obsessed white female worldview.

The upshot is that whenever you read in report in a newspaper, don’t assume that “objectivity” is the standard, because many reporters are poisoned by a personal agenda.

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