The media loves talking about the media, and will embrace any excuse to do just that. Ferguson police provided the press with an opportunity for self-indulgence that they just could not pass up when they detained without explanation two journalists during protests in Missouri last week. From that point on, those two reporters were not merely chroniclers of but active participants in this story, and they comported themselves in that fashion in their many subsequent interviews with various press outlets.
On Monday, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and his guests, who have broadly been more hostile to the Ferguson protesters than their MSNBC colleagues, scolded reporters for making the story in Ferguson about the treatment of the press rather than the grievances of local protesters.
During Sunday night’s violent protests in Ferguson, KARG Argus Radio reporter Mustafa Hussein was targeted by a police officer and forcefully asked to leave the area. “Get the f*** out of here, or I’ll shoot you with this,” one unidentified officer told the radio reporter.
Some, including conservatives, implied that the officer’s threat was over the line. The hosts of Morning Joe apparently disagreed. They noted that coordinated attacks on police and the introduction of weapons including reports of Molotov cocktails have changed the calculation for the first responders.
This is a fairly well-deserved critique, and it is an important example of how changing circumstances should change opinions. Yes, a heavy-handed police response to peaceful protests which was not especially dissimilar to the police response to looting made the situation in Ferguson worse. Yes, the evolving nature of the protests in Ferguson, which are now an unquestioned threat to public safety, require a robust and significant police and military response to quell. Absolutists on either side of the argument about how the police have comported themselves during this episode of violence are doing the debate about the militarization of the police a disservice.
Moreover, the self-righteousness of reporters in America’s comfortable newsrooms on the coasts does not seem representative of the opinions of reporters on the ground in Missouri. Far from expressing unqualified revulsion at what many have considered the undue force applied to both protesters and reporters alike, some in the press are now openly hoping for a stronger police response.
This sentiment was perhaps best exemplified on Sunday night just prior to a news conference from Capt. Ron Johnson.
“They need to shoot some people to stop this,” an unidentified photographer said off camera. “I hate to say it, but it’s true.”
While America’s commentators are more concerned with a police response to the violence in Ferguson, a justified reaction which the early responders to this crisis brought upon themselves, some reporters on the ground now appear to be more concerned with their own safety.
The situation in Ferguson has changed for the worse, and the moral authority of those who continue to insist that the police should stand down is waning.