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Over-covering Ferguson

8/26/2014

Why did the protests and riots last so long in Ferguson?

Why did the protests and riots last so long in Ferguson?

Why did out-of-town agitators and opportunists like the Communist Revolutionary Party and the New Black Panthers flocked to a St. Louis suburb?

Why, 12 days after Michael Brown was shot to death by a policeman, did the good people of Ferguson who want to see a fair and just investigation into the facts surrounding Brown's death still have no peace?

It's the national news media, stupid.

It's the ratings-hungry, pot-stirring, sensationalizing TV media that never misses a chance to milk -- and perpetuate -- a white-on-black news story.

Ferguson was not just big news on network TV and in the Washington Post. It became a nightly action-packed reality show on CNN, MSNBC and FOX.

The images of tear-gassed protestors squared off against militarized police make for great TV. So does the tension and drama.

Will protests turn more violent? Will a provocateur throw a bomb, burn down a variety store or shoot a cop with a deer rifle?

We all hope not. But if anything exciting happens, don't you worry, America.

Jake Tapper, Chris Hayes and Steve Harrigan will be there on the sidewalks of Ferguson to capture it live for CNN, MSNBC and Fox.

Then Anderson, Rachel and Greta will analyze and discuss everything until the country falls asleep.

Obviously, no one can or should stop the news media from stampeding in a herd to Ferguson. We need and want the national print and electronic media to thoroughly cover tragic events like this.

But we need the news media to do its job right -- and with restraint.

We need journalists to dig up accurate new information, challenge the authorities, debunk rumors and lies and provide perspective, thoughtful analysis and commentary.

Last week in Ferguson, the TV media's saturation coverage -- and saturation commentary -- only was making things worse.

Its round-the-clock presence was only attracting publicity seekers and troublemakers who give Ferguson's good people a bad name.

What's worse, the media attention was encouraging residents of Ferguson to continue the unnecessary daily protests that were destroying daily life in their town.

The people of Ferguson deserve to learn the truth. The investigation should be done properly, and state and federal agencies have come in to make sure that happens.

But the process of determining whether police officer Darren Wilson was justified or not in shooting Michael Brown is going to take months, if not years.

The autopsies are not complete. The grand jury hasn't finished its work. We don't have the police incident report yet. We've heard conflicting eyewitness reports.

Instead of standing around on sidewalks in the dark waiting for something exciting to happen, the TV news guys should do everyone a favor and back off for a while.

That never will happen. But if it did, overnight Ferguson's streets would be filled with cars again, not protest marchers, riot police and Al Jazeera camera crews.

Everyone involved -- especially the TV news media -- needs to calm down and wait for all the facts before they start spouting their pre-conceived conclusions.

The shooting death of a young black man like Brown is an American tragedy. Unfortunately, it happens all too often.

Too many unarmed citizens of all races are being killed each year by our cops. No one knows for sure how many. But in a handful of highly publicized cases, it's a white cop killing an unarmed black man without justification. Maybe that's what happened to Brown, maybe not. We'll see.

Meanwhile, while the national media herd waits for all the facts about Brown's death, they might want to spend some quality time in Chicago.

Last year, 500 murders were committed there. As in most inner cities, most of the victims and the perpetrators were young black men engaged in gang warfare.

Chicago's permanent murder spree is not as sensational or as racially charged as a white cop killing an unarmed black teen. But its causes and cures could use a lot more media attention.

Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant and the author of "The New Reagan Revolution."

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