In explaining why a grand jury decided not to press charges against Darren Wilson, St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Bob McCulloch presented what sounded like the defense's version of the incident. This morning, he was one-upped by the Washington Post in a package matter-of-factly titled "What happened in Ferguson," which only suspiciously leaves off the addendum "according to Darren Wilson."
The story—attributed to Post writers Bonnie Berkowitz, Richard Johnson and Darla Cameron—purports to visualize what happened between Brown and Wilson on that Ferguson street in August. What it actually does is illustrate, and effectively endorse, Wilson's characterization of the events.
For instance, here is the fourth slide, which depicts the struggle between the two in progress.
The drawing shows Brown cocking back to strike a visibly cowering Wilson above the bolded headline "Witnesses say Brown punched Wilson." Below that declaration is a directly contradictory paragraph that notes "Witnesses gave conflicting statements on what happened next." The Post's own description of its drawing notes that it has no idea what actually happened—Brown maybe punched Wilson, or maybe he didn't, or maybe he was partially inside the car and not standing on the street with his arm cocked—but they nonetheless choose to visually portray Brown as an attacker attempting to punch out a defenseless cop, who, by the way, looks to be about 80 years old in the illustration.
The story then moves along. Here is slide eight:
Here, Wilson is shown shooting at Brown as the teenager runs from him. But the Post takes the first opportunity to undercut its drawing by hedging the headline—"Some witnesses," it notes, "say Wilson fires at Brown." That assessment is affirmed in the following paragraph.
Contrast that with the earlier slide in which Brown is shown cocking back to bludgeon Wilson, which uses "witnesses" rather than "some witnesses"—even though the Post itself reports that there were varying statements regarding what happened during the struggle at the car. Only when the version of events would benefit Brown—when Wilson is shown shooting at Brown's back—does the Post immediately cast its own drawing into doubt by openly questioning the witness consensus.
This dynamic appears again in the third to last slide, which illustrates a contentious and important bit of the story: Did Michael Brown charge Darren Wilson? Here, the Post appears certain:
"Brown moves toward Wilson," states the headline. We see Brown in a full sprint at Wilson, who for some reason has now been excised from the drawing, with only the very tip of his pistol barely visible at the extreme left of the frame.
This image, perhaps the most crucial point of the entire incident between Brown and Wilson, is presented as factual from drawing to headline, but, for the second time, the Post contradicts itself in the longer description: "Again, witness accounts differed. Some said Brown didn't move toward Wilson but stood with his hands raised." The Post could have chosen to show exactly that—Brown with his hands up. Or they could have presented a drawing that in some way illustrated this critical cleaving in the story. Instead, we see Brown in a full bull-rush.
At the beginning of the slideshow, the Post writes that it is illustrating McCulloch's "scenario for the sequence of events."
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch laid out this scenario for the sequence of events in the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, assembled from physical evidence and testimony of dozens of witnesses.
Rather than evaluate the validity of McCulloch's statement, the newspaper parrots it. The Post's illustration of the events, the first of its kind, is an enshrinement of Wilson's story. It's a storyboard justification of a teenager's death.
Remember the headline: "What happened in Ferguson," it states flatly. The Post is putting its reputation and its eye-catching visuals behind Wilson and McCulloch. This story has been shared on Facbeook some 6,000 times—and that number is rising.
It has even fooled journalists who consider themselves critical readers. Here is media critic Richard Deitsch, the wad of bunched underwear in the ass crack of sports writing, who uses his Twitter feed as a clearinghouse for what he sees as the only journalism a truly discerning consumer needs to read.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) November 25, 2014
When Darren Wilson's story eventually becomes fact, let's remember why.
[images via The Washington Post]