Sunday, December 20, 2009

WashPost Relents on Plainclothes Officer Holding Gun. Turns Out a Post Staffer Had Seen it With Own Eyes.

As I noted yesterday, the WashPost bit DC police claims that the plainclothes officer at the snowball fight never drew his gun -- despite photos published a couple hours earlier to the contrary. And when the Post updated its story last night, they still weren't ready to call a spade a spade.

Today, at 10:50am, Matt Zopotsky posted a new story that rights many of the wrongs. Its headline is "Snowball fight takes dangerous turn when police officer draws gun." It includes this:
Videos and photos show a D.C. police detective unholstering his gun (and admitting to it) during a confrontation with a group of snowball fighters. The video is making the rounds on the Internet and national TV stations. The detective, who authorities have not identified, on one such video says: "Yes I did," apparently referring to the fact that he drew his gun, "because I got hit with snowballs."

D.C. police have said they are investigating the incident. Assistant Chief Pete Newsham, who leads the department's investigative services bureau, has said the detective in question "was armed but never pulls his weapon." Photos and videos posted online appear to contradict that, though none show the detective pointing his gun at anyone.
This language basically meets what I said was necessary:
  • saying that the photos showed a gun
  • that the video showed him saying "yes I did"
  • reporting that the police had claimed he did not hold his gun
  • including links to the photos and video
The story notes that a Post editorial aide, Stephen Lowman, was there at the scene, and saw the plainclothes officer hold the gun.

And that's troubling. Someone from the Post was there (whether on assignment or there for fun, who knows), and yet they still put up a story hours later buying the police claims that their own employee saw were not true? And they didn't update the story until 10:20 last night, and even then wouldn't outright say he had held his gun.

As for today's print edition, it doesn't have a dedicated article on the incident; just a paragraph in the main snowstorm story (the Post's coverage of the storm was relatively light: a main story, a story on shopping, and a brief item on Senators traveling through the storm to get to the capitol).

The Post used at least two different versions of language in different editions of the print story. I'm looking at an edition I picked up at a store in DC today, edition "MD DC VA S V1".

The main story in this V1 edition, which noted that "it was still snowing in the District at 9 p.m." (final version, which is online currently, says "at 10 p.m."), says this about the snowball fight:
Participants in a massive snowball fight at 14th and U streets NW were apparently confronted by a plainclothes police officer who briefly unholstered his gun. Police were investigating.
"Apparently" isn't the weakest word, but still.

The version of the main story in the 'final edition' (via Factiva), is a touch different:
Participants in a massive snowball fight at 14th and U streets NW were apparently confronted by a police officer in street clothes who briefly unholstered his gun, based on images that were posted online. Police said they were investigating.
What we're left with is a mess. A Post staffer was at the incident, we learn today, yet they still didn't use the information he saw with his eyes until mid-morning today. And the Post was slow on a story that was getting an awful lot of attention on the Twittertubes. I want to be clear about this part: it's not that the Post or other traditional media should use Twitter/citizen information as fact, or even do a story primarily based on "reports on Twitter suggest..", since those reports could turn out to be incorrect.

But the Post and other traditional media should use the Twitter reports as a resource -- as a guide to possible breaking stories, and possible eyewtiness sources. After the USAirways crash, national tv producers and others quickly bombarded the witnesses Tweeting from the scene with interview requests -- good for them. In this case, the Post went beyond ignoring the tweeters to ignoring their competitor, the City Paper, which had published the images. Boggles the mind.

Update: Thanks City Paper for the link! (links!).


At 5:58 PM, Blogger Joel Lawson said...

Didn't the Post utilize Twitter postings and other social media content quite heavily in their coverage of the demonstrations in Iran?

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Miscelena said...

Yet they also seem to be simultaneously patting themselves on the back for the report, in their Story Lab summary:

At 8:18 AM, Blogger Franco said...

This story has a lot of other elements that are going unreported, aside from the gun. The uniformed police arrive and at least one has HIS gun drawn. The crowd is calling the man a "pig" and the cop gets pelted in the neck with a snowball. These dweebs are either really stupid, or they never really feel threatened.

The detective is driving a Hummer. Is the pay that good in DC?

At 8:18 AM, Blogger lewy14 said...

FWIW, CNN/HLN was in full blown ridicule mode this AM. No "alleged" BS, they showed the cop with his gun - very, very unflattering report.

2010 prediction: Robin Meade -> Fox News.

At 8:46 AM, Blogger TRO said...

"The detective is driving a Hummer. Is the pay that good in DC?"

Leaving out everything else, what does this have to do with anything? Maybe his wife works and their combined salaries afforded it. Maybe he saved for years. Maybe they gave him a great deal on a used one. Maybe he overextended his credit like a few million other folks.

And why is it your business anyway? Cause he is a cop? They aren't supposed to be able to own anything nice?

Of course this isn't the first time I have read this moronic comment. Lots of folks have Hummer envy evidently.

At 10:56 AM, Blogger comatus said...

It's relevant: had he been in a REAL Hummer, not a Silverado with a codpiece, there'd have been no need to fear snowballs.

With a SWAT HMMV--and I'm sure DC has them--he could have let Ma Deuce do his talking for him.

At 11:00 AM, Blogger JorgXMcKie said...

TRO, give Franco a break. I'm sure if the cop had been driving a Prius Franco would have been okay with the cop emptying his weapon at the 'rioters.'

Hummer = bad guy
Prius = saint

At 11:04 AM, Blogger mdchaney said...

There's a lot of really bad reporting out there. In the BBC, they repeated the silly "videos weren't clear as to whether he had a gun or not", and even went so far as to claim that nobody knew his name. Taking 5 minutes to watch a video online is apparently too much trouble for someone writing a story about this, so they copy the police press release instead.

At 7:00 PM, Blogger Travis said...

This comment has been removed by the author.


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