5. You are not the story.
Call this the Geraldo Rivera Effect. No matter what story Geraldo is reporting on, it’s never really about the story. It’s about how bold and resourceful he is to be reporting on it. You can send him to Afghanistan after September 11, as Fox News unwisely did, and he won’t be reporting to you about the dangerous religious fanatics who gave safe haven to al-Qaeda. No, he’ll report to you about how bold and adventurous he is to be forging his way through the mountains of the Hindu Kush in his flak jacket.
In Ferguson, reporters were falling all over themselves to be social justice warriors (to coin a phrase) who would strike a blow against racism and an unjust system. When they cast themselves in this role, they became partisans who were no longer able to admit facts that run contrary to the partisan narrative. I know it’s a lot less glamorous to give up on being a crusader for social justice and just be a guy who reports the facts. But if you’re in the media, that’s your job.
It’s time to learn all of these lessons before the next contentious shooting, because there will be one. In a land of 300 million people, the ordinary course of interactions between public and police will inevitably produce some tragic results. Some of these shootings will turn out to be justified, others won’t. And there is no way of immediately knowing which is which. If the media doesn’t want to be in the position of inciting a riot each time this happens—and again, that’s a big “if”—they need to learn how to do a more responsible job of reporting on the use of force.