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Cervantes: Ferguson coverage reveals media bias

BY CHRISTOPHER CERVANTES | SEPTEMBER 11, 2014 5:00 AM

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If I had a nickel for every time I heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words,”then I wouldn’t have to worry about tuition money. The funny thing is that a picture is worth more than just a thousand words. Images invoke certain types of thoughts and opinions, which become a strong ally to any cause that the news media decide to shine their spotlight upon.

Citizen Kane gave us the classic line, “You supply the pictures, I’ll supply the war.”

The war in question today has been within our borders since August and has heightened to frightening proportions. The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, has divided our nation in many aspects. One institution, however, is largely untouched. That institution is the media, and the reason behind this is because of the overwhelming amount of outlets that are sympathetic with Michael Brown.

To clarify: This is not an opinion on the shooting but rather how the media have portrayed it.

Let’s begin with the pictures. One of the first pictures I saw after the shooting was of Brown. The trouble was, it was not Michael Brown circa 2014. What I saw was Brown circa elementary school. The next picture was another of Brown, this time clad proudly in graduation cap and gown. The final series of photos (for they are abundant) are of his mother weeping as a sympathetic family member comforts her.

These pictures have been strategically picked. They evoke feelings of empathy and heartache. More importantly though, they evoke sympathy for Brown and anger toward Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown.

This is, in a way, sickening to see. The bias in this case is not only blatant, it is unwavering. 

It is so rare to see any bit of information that shows Wilson in a positive light. On of the few articles exclusively about the officer was titled “Who is Darren Wilson, the officer who Shot Michael Brown?” This may try to give its audience information on the man, but the title has already put him in a negative connotation with the audience. Whenever Brown is written about, there are always the same words that follow him: 18, unarmed, black man.

These words stand out, not only for their constant use but also for the historical context that they retain. It reminds many of the hate crimes and cases of police that our nation has dealt with in the past. When this is mixed in with a photograph’s empathy, then you might as well buy Wilson an orange prison jump suit.

Why is this happening? Why is it that there is no advocate for the officer and why is everyone out for his badge and life?

The answer: What sells?

Journalistic integrity is a wonderful ideal and attribute, but it is one that is not universally shared. While some news outlets may pride themselves as guardians of veracity, others are guided by what sells.  No one wants to buy anything that justifies the death of an unarmed adolescent. They would rather read a story in which there is a clear right and wrong and the “bad guy” gets punished.  Extra points are given if anyone can throw in the token racist that has been so popular in the cases of Paula Dean and the Clippers.

I feel for the families of both Brown and Wilson. This ordeal has exploited both parties all for the sake of the best media coverage.  Their roles in this game have overshadowed their status as victims and bystanders. When the next big story comes along (and it will come along) let’s hope that the families of those involved are spared the treatment that the media’s Ferguson coverage has wrought.


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