Question mark in the headline because the AP Stylebook’s not available online, so I can’t confirm that it’s true. But I’m going to trust Eddie Scarry:
The Associated Press Stylebook states that in reports referring to a person’s age, the figure for the age number should be used. It also states that reports should “use man or woman for individuals 18 and older.”
Why, then, are AP reports on the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown solely referring to him as a “teen” and “teenager”?
“Don’t know’ if Missouri teen shot with hands up,” reads one AP headline from Monday. “County autopsy: Unarmed teen shot 6 to 8 times,” reads another.
And an excerpt from yet another AP story, emphasis added: “Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon lifted a curfew but ordered the National Guard to step in to help restore order. Holder over the weekend ordered a federal medical examiner to perform a third autopsy on the teenager, Michael Brown.”
The story Scarry cites at the end no longer has the word “teenager” in it. It now reads “ordered a federal medical examiner to perform a third autopsy on Brown” and refers to Brown elsewhere as an “unarmed black man.” But this story from earlier this afternoon still refers to Brown as a “teenager,” as does this one from yesterday. It’s an odd rule that you shouldn’t refer to someone as a teen who is, in point of fact, a teen, but you know why they have it. When most people hear “teenager,” they think of a minor, not someone who’s legally considered an adult, and whether the victim of a shooting is a child or an adult does affect the moral weight assigned to it by the reader. That’s Scarry’s point — obviously, if they’re breaking their own rule, they’re doing it to put a thumb on the moral scale of how tragic Brown’s death is. Listing his age as 18 and then following normal style doesn’t quite go far enough in leading the reader to the conclusion they want him to draw.
Ace wrote a longer post today, inspired by Greg Gutfeld, about some reporters’ habit of turning the inscrutable complexity of human behavior, especially in high-pressure situations, into too-clean narratives for their audience. Bingo:
Greg Gutfeld mentioned a New York Times reporter who seemed to object to reporting that the coroner’s report that Michael Brown had marijuana in his system at the time of death, by asking, “Why does it matter that he had marijuana in his system?”
Gutfeld answered: It matters because it’s a fact…
Incidentally, Gutfeld might have added:
And if the toxicology report on the cop had shown the presence of drugs or alcohol, that would matter, right?
The narrative is “Wilson killed Brown unjustifiably.” Facts that serve that narrative are considered relevant, facts that don’t, aren’t. If Wilson had been high, it’d be big news because (a) it would show that he’s willing to break the law, even while on duty, and (b) more importantly, it would mean that his judgment might have been impaired in confronting Brown. That serves the “unjustifiable” narrative. The same could be true for Brown, though — if he was willing to break the law in using weed and strong-arming that convenience store clerk, and if his judgment was impaired by the drug, maybe he really did go for Wilson’s gun during their confrontation. putting Wilson in fear for his life. (Why Wilson would still be in fear for his life with Brown 20-30 feet away and unarmed is another question.) I’m skeptical that marijuana would make someone much more aggressive than they’d otherwise be, but Wilson wouldn’t have gotten that benefit of the doubt if he was the one who’d been high. The narrative determines which facts are relevant, and how they’re presented.
Brown’s “teenager” status per the AP Stylebook is a relatively benign illustration of that but some examples are more malignant. Everyone understands why the Times cooked up the unorthodox term “white Hispanic” to describe George Zimmerman: They were pushing a “white man values black life cheaply” narrative but got tripped up by the inconvenient fact that Zimmerman himself was a minority by virtue of his Latino ancestry, and so rather than jettison the narrative, they concocted “white Hispanic” to keep it intact. There may be, and probably will be, more examples of narrative-building before the Brown case is over. Via Breitbart, here’s Gutfeld.