Saturday, December 19, 2009

WashPost Bit DC Police Claims That Plain-Clothes Officer Never Brandished Gun at Snowfight -- Despite Photos And Admission to Contrary

At 3:46pm today, City Paper published photos of an incident that's getting attention in DC: a plain clothes (and/or off duty) police officer drew his gun at a snowfight, and only then identified himself as a police officer, according to witnesses. The officer, a Detective Baylor (sp?) was driving a red hummer and people at the snowball fight at 14th and U this afternoon had thrown snowballs at him.

The City Paper report included photos by witness Matthew Bradley, and also included a YouTube clip in which the detective says that "yes I did" wield his gun.

Yet despite all of this, when the Washington Post got its initial story up nearly two hours later (5:40pm), it completely bit DC Police's story: that the Detective had never wielded his gun. Assistant Chief Pete Newsham told the Post's Matt Zapotsky: “He was armed but never pulls his weapon.”

Had the Post really not glanced at what its faster competitor was reporting? Was it not following the story on Twitter, where it would have at least heard of eyewitness report that the Detective brandished a gun, allegations it could have followed up on with, you know, reporting?

Only at 10:20pm would the Post update its story (and add the byline of Martin Weil), with this:
UPDATE (10.20 p.m.)The plainclothes D.C. police detective may have unholstered his pistol during the confrontation with participants in the huge snowball fight, based on video and photos posted on the Internet.
The photos of the gun, and the video of the detective saying he had wielded it, apparently only shifted the Post's position so much ("may have unholstered").

Look, I understand if the Post wanted to be careful or something, and report it as, say, "multiple photos appeared to show the officer holding a gun, and a video shows the man -- who identifies himself at Detective Baylor -- saying he indeed held his gun." Instead, the Post went with the "may have unholstered" language, which is rather misleading.

The Post update also did not include a link to the photos or videos that would be useful to readers. And it's not like they don't post links to thing; the initial report, for examples, included a link to a YouTube video of the snowball fight itself. But this update would give no links.

It will be interesting to see what the Post runs in Sunday's print edition. Will it note how its own initial story got it wrong? Will it note that the DC police, whether by accident or on purpose, had told them something that turned out to be untrue?

Update: The Post added this to the story at 10:57pm:
UPDATE (10:57 p.m.) This YouTube video appears to show a confrontation with the detective. Warning: Contains strong language.
The link is to the video where the detective admits that he wielded his gun. And that's the importance of the video, an importance this 10:57pm update doesn't even mention.


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