When the media intentionally distorts the news, Milwaukee edition

I’ve been looking at this story since it came out, but it was only last night that it really seemed to crystallize for the various players involved. As we discussed yesterday, there hasn’t been a lot of media attention paid to the recent riots in Milwaukee, and when it was mentioned there seemed to be a decided softening of the underlying tale. During the brief segments when CNN did discuss it, they included a video clip of Sherelle Smith, the sister of Sylville K. Smith, the gunman who was killed by police at the start of this episode. In it, she seemed to make an impassioned plea for the rioters to abandon their violent ways. (This clip was dug up and highlighted by IJR.)

Don’t bring the violence here and the ignorance here!

That seemed to work well for CNN’s editors because they left it at that. And it’s a nice message, particularly coming from a family member of the person shot by the police. It’s a call for peace. But as IJR immediately highlighted, the clip had been cut off very abruptly. Ms. Smith had quite a bit more to say.

Burning down sh*t ain’t going to help nothing. Y’all burning down sh*t we need in our community. Take that sh*t to the suburbs. Burn that sh*t down. We need our weave. I don’t wear it, but we need it.

This is frustrating to observe because CNN has such a large microphone in covering these social unrest situations and clearly they can spin these stories however they like. In this case, however, enough people called them out on it that they were forced to address the question the following day. (Follow-up again from IJR)

Ana Cabrera, a reporter involved in the story, says they “shorthanded” the quote, and that it was unintentional.

I suppose it’s good that Ana Cabrera at least acknowledged that something very wrong had gone on, but it’s worth noting that she yet again sticks to the claim that it was “unintentional.” The correction piece on their website which she links to includes the following slide, which is as close as we come to an admission.


Well, that’s accurate, if a bit understated. But now that we have the halfhearted admission in hand, it brings us back to the original question. Leaving aside the protestations of Ana Cabrera, how on Earth would any rational person observe this chain of events and conclude that this was unintentional? Cable news thrives on clips and quotes. If there’s footage of a key player in a story standing out in front of a crowd and addressing the subject, they’ll generally run a good chunk of it even if some of it is fluff. They cut Ms. Smith off after only a few seconds right in the middle of her tirade. The portions which were blocked were obviously the most relevant and critical aspects of the story. The omission didn’t simply leave the statement incomplete… it completely reversed the message of the speaker by 180 degrees.

CNN managed to turn a demand that the crowd go “burn down the suburbs” into a call for peace, and that description was repeated on the network and their website multiple times. That’s not a mistake and it’s not incomplete coverage. It’s a deliberate shifting of the story. How much of this is going on every day without someone catching it and forcing them to fess up?