Iowa story sheds light on MSM

Steven Greenhut: When a group of black teens beats up white people while allegedly yelling, “It’s Beat Whitey Night,” one can have a fairly good idea that the beatings were racially motivated. Yet the mainstream media that covered this event, which took place last week around the Iowa State Fairgrounds, can’t quite admit that race could possibly have been involved. As the Des Moines Register put it in the lead paragraph in its news reporting of the event, “Des Moines police are trying to determine what led to a series of attacks outside the Iowa State Fairgrounds over the weekend that included the assault of two police officers.”

Either the city’s police are stunningly incompetent, or the city’s newspaper is unwilling to directly and honestly report a story for reasons of political correctness. I’d bet on the latter.

This isn’t a California story or a political one, of course, but it says a lot about mainstream media coverage of disturbing events. I’m writing about it because it touches on what we do as a New Media outlet, and on the nature of this quickly evolving news industry.

Most readers can guess what caused the attacks, which led to “severe injuries” to at least one man. But the experts interviewed by the Register were sure that the obvious answer — racial animus by these particular young black people against white people — couldn’t be the correct one. A state representative said that “police comments that race was involved could miss other factors, such as nonracial taunting.” An NAACP spokesperson also argued that something must have provoked the crowd.

I can only imagine the nature of the story had a gang of white teens beat up innocent black fair-goers while yelling, “It’s Beat N-word Night.” No one in officialdom would be searching for motives — only for the perpetrators. And no one would be looking for exculpatory evidence.

But this story epitomizes what’s wrong with the mainstream media, and why so many Americans have decided to get their news elsewhere. I learned of this incident from Herb Strentz, writing in the Nieman Watchdog Web site: ”

The Des Moines Register’s reluctance to identify criminal suspects or victims by race has turned into an outright refusal to do so.

The closing night of the Iowa State Fair was marked by an observance not exactly on the Fair calendar: Police, fairgoers and the news media agree that bands of roving ‘individuals,’ as the Register calls them, proclaimed ‘It’s Beat Whitey Night.’ … The Register news story on ‘Beat Whitey Night’ doesn’t publish the race of anyone — not of suspects, not of victims, not of the cops. …

Granted, it is easy to over-react to any conflict involving blacks and whites these days — Shirley Sherrod, anyone? — but it is also easy to be so cautious as to lose credibility. WHO-TV in Des Moines may have gone the Register one better, or one worse, with the website headline: ‘Police trying to figure out if race played role in attacks.’

Strentz is correct. The media need to be careful about covering racial matters. Then again they need to be careful in covering all stories — careful to get the facts right, not careful to avoid telling its readers interesting stories in a direct manner that treats them like adults. Most Iowans can handle the likely truth: a small group of young African-Americans allegedly engaged in what probably would have been considered hate crimes had young white people done the same thing. Readers can make their own judgments about the apparent events, but the newspaper and TV station were afraid what judgments their readers might make so they failed to really tell anyone what happened.

And this keeps getting more bizarre.

Now the police are claiming there is no evidence of a racial motive, even as the evidence continues to suggest that race was a factor. Here is a RadioIowa report:

Des Moines police say their investigation of attacks just outside the Iowa State Fair grounds has so far not found any indication that the events were racially motivated. …

All of the victims were white and all of those charged were black.

Lieutenant Joe Gonzalez says the idea that the events were racially motivated came from a police report. Gonzalez says there were some statements from “general intelligence” inside the fair about the “beat whitey night” comment, and while he says the statements were unsubstantiated, they ended up in the report.

The media should be asking tough questions, not just buying the official explanation, which has been evolving and could possibly reflect pressure by city officials who are afraid that reports of racial attacks will harm the fair’s image and encourage people to avoid this big event next year. In fact, the officer who filed the report appears to be facing questions for writing about the possible racial angle.

This serves as a warning about how these media outlets cover — or don’t cover — other interesting and important topics. Making readers read between the lines out of fear of offending is absurd, especially when the events are as blatant as the ones that took place. I suffered through the Des Moines Register’s over-the-top political correctness during the 4 1/2 years I lived in that city. I even wrote occasional columns for its op-ed page.

In those days, the late 1980s and early 1990s, there weren’t many choices for information. The public had to rely on the local newspaper and TV talking heads to get its information. These days, when the media refuse to tell their readers stories that they don’t want us to read, or tell it in such absurdly dishonest ways to advance a political or cultural agenda, we can all laugh and look elsewhere.

And the editors can keep wondering where their readers are going.

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