Imagine that you were, god forbid, a journalist. You’ve been assigned to relay the facts of a fatal shooting. The scene is a bar in the middle of a rioting city with its windows smashed in and a group of people gathered outside. The bar owner’s father comes out to confront them, and one of them knocks the old man to the ground. At this point the bar owner himself comes out and, indicating that he has a gun on his person, and demands that the group leave — only to be tackled to the ground as well. The owner fires two warning shots into the air but is tackled a second time and then straddled by a man clearly attempting to grab his gun. A struggle for the weapon ensues with the owner shouting, “Get off me, get off me, please get off me,” before finally shooting.
There is clear video footage and audio available of the entire incident from multiple angles. The bar owner is white and the man shot was black, but no evidence suggests racism factored into the owner’s decision to shoot while he was surrounded and on the ground with someone on top of him. As expected, the county district attorney does not press charges and declares that the incident was “senseless, but justified” as self-defense.
Suppose you had to write a piece about this tragic shooting. How would you title it? Perhaps something along the lines of “Bar Owner Shot Protester in Self-Defense, States DA” as a sensible way of summarizing the facts of the case?
Thankfully, you’re probably not a journalist. Such a title would be far too sensible.
The shooting of James Scurlock by Jacob Gardner in Omaha, Nebraska, around midnight Saturday matches the scenario described above. It was by all indications justified, if deeply unfortunate. The absence of any racial element to the altercation has not, however, stopped many media outlets from covering the story in a way seemingly designed to add more fuel to the most destructive American riots in living memory.
CBS, usually among the more staid of the corporate networks, declares in that editorializing tone characteristic of the New York Times: “A white bar owner in Omaha shot and killed a black protester. He won’t face charges.” The title, stripped of the rather important context of self-defense, has been blasted across social media. Another racist hate crime has been committed! Time for more cities to burn?
The Washington Post leads with this title: “ ‘What about James?’ Killing of black protester fuels more anger in Omaha.” Helpfully, the article informs us that Scurlock’s death “sparked discussion on [Omaha’s] legacy of racism,” a topic the writer finds pertinent to a bar owner defending his store from rioters and looters.
Perhaps most egregious of all, however, are the articles that shamelessly pander to the partisan proclivities of readers. Vice’s piece, which also places race front and center in a title that does not mention self-defense, ends by pointing out that Gardner is a self-identified libertarian and that he had posed for a photo with Donald Trump Jr. in 2017. A less informed reader might wonder what relevance such details have to the story, but the logic is simple: liking Donald Trump Jr. is evidence of a hate crime. It’s obvious.
Raw Story gets right to the point by mentioning that Gardner is “Trump-loving” in the headline. The Cut takes care to point out that Gardner “wrote a Facebook post that disparaged transgender women” in 2016, and claims in the headline that Scurlock was “shot and killed while protesting police brutality” (as opposed to shot and killed while assaulting a man trying to defend his life and property, as actually happened).
You get the point. These are media outlets, with billions of dollars of revenue and international audiences numbering in the millions, doing their best to prolong riots that are destroying the lives and livelihoods of countless innocent Americans, all to get clicks and distort the truth to favor their own political views. Many will likely play a role in precipitating the next round of nihilistic looting and burning in two or three years. See you all then.