We will call it the Baltimore Blunder. The way the media ran with the story Monday about Baltimore cops shooting a man in the back when, it turned out, the cop never pulled his trigger.
The single gunshot everybody heard came from the suspect’s gun, apparently after he had dropped it.
The man then fell and gave everybody the impression that he had just been shot.
The incident was witnessed by Fox News reporter Michael Tobin, who reported on the air that police had just shot the man, even though the man did not threaten him in anyway.
Dozens of other witnesses also believed he had been shot and began getting hostile towards police officers, who pulled out pepper spray to disperse the crowd. As the crowds dispersed, they continued spreading the news that police had just shot a man in the back.
That was when one of our correspondents, Alex Salazar, posted a video to Facebook, showing several people saying a man had been shot in the back as police continued forcing them down the block with riot shields.
I saw the video as soon as it came up on Facebook and downloaded it, quickly uploading it to our Youtube channel as Facebook videos never embed properly on this site.
During that time, I came across video from a live streamer also reporting the same, so I wrote a quick story with the headline, “Breaking: Baltimore Police Just Shot Man in Back, According to Several Witnesses at Scene,” posting it online along with the video.
I then came across a Fox News story stating that one of its reporters witnessed the shooting, so I added that to the still developing story. And several other news reports began emerging, from both the corporate media and the independent media, informing readers that a Baltimore cop just shot a man in the back.
And then Baltimore police sent out a tweet stating there was no shooting.
Adding to the confusion, an earlier tweet they sent out referred to a “man who had been shot multiple times,” which was sent out around the time of the shooting, making me think it was the same shooting.
But I later learned those two locations are miles apart and it was another shooting they had been tweeting about, such is the life in Baltimore.
I quickly rewrote the headline and the story as it became apparent there was no shooting and continued updating the story with new facts. And I reposted a new story with a new headline on Facebook because the headline on the initial story was unable to be changed. I did, however, edit my commentary on the post, telling readers that police were now reporting nobody had been shot.
And then Fox News’ Shepard Smith, I later learned, issued an on-air apology for misleading their viewers. You can see all that as well as Salazar’s footage in the video below.
But the Baltimore Sun, which has evidently tired of Fox’s style of reporting on their home turf, published a piece the following day, telling the news network to get out of town.
I am sure someone at Fox News will tell me about the “fog of war” and how anyone can make a mistake.
But it’s the fog of a news infrastructure that failed to keep information that could have triggered another riot off the air until it was vetted and then vetted again.
And then it went with an unconfirmed police statement.
Maybe I feel this way in part because this is my town and it seems so vulnerable right now. But this story is way too big for the report-it-first, confirm-it-later reporting that is accepted as standard operating procedure in TV news, Internet and social-media reporting.
It’s too big for Fox News to have sent someone like Geraldo Rivera here to cover it for Sean Hannity’s show last week. Rivera told State Sen. Catherine Pugh the people on the streets of Baltimore seemed to be looking for “trouble.” She had to tell him that wasn’t what they were looking for at all.
City Council member Nick Mosby had the same kind of encounter with Fox News correspondent Leland Vittert the night of the riots when he tried to offer some context on the “socioeconomics of urban America,” only to finally say he thought Vittert missed the point of “everything” he “tried to articulate.”
To the reporters still in Baltimore: Stop it. Raise your games. Rise to the level of this story – or get out of town.
Go cover a less challenging story.
The Sun has been doing a superb job covering this story and might even win a Pulitzer for its coverage. And while Fox News will usually be the first to sensationalize a story, not to mention the fact that Geraldo Rivera is a joke of a journalist (despite what Brian Craig may believe), I can be more forgiving of Tobin’s initial report of the shooting.
Let’s face it, had a riot exploded because of the incident, it would not be because they were sitting at home watching Fox News when they heard Tobin’s report.
It would be because they had either witnessed what they thought was a shooting or heard it from somebody on the street who had claimed to seen the shooting. Word on the street travels fast.
Tobin witnessed what dozens of other people witnessed. And he also spoke to several witnesses at the scene who confirmed what he thought he had seen. And it’s not realistic for a news station to get police confirmation about a shooting before they run with it because cops are notorious for stonewalling, especially out-of-town reporters who will not have the established sources that the Sun may have.
This was a story that had already taken fire on social media where dozens of people on the ground were posting comments, photos and videos about Baltimore police shooting a man in the back. Not a single person on social media came forward saying it was false until police sent their tweet.
If anything, this incident revealed just how little credibility Baltimore police has in the eyes of the media and the residents they are sworn to protect and serve.
Too many people have been killed and abused over the years to think police would not shoot a man in the back in broad daylight. That, unfortunately, is not shocking anymore.
The shocking part was when it turned out not to be true.