By James D. Agresti
August 9, 2018
The Washington Post recently published an article titled “Voters Oust Prosecutor Accused of Favoring Ferguson Officer Who Killed Michael Brown.” The reporter, Cleve Wootson, writes that “Brown, an unarmed black teenager” died “at the hands of a white Ferguson police officer.” He describes this as a “slaying,” a word that means “to kill violently, wantonly, or in great numbers.”
Yet, Wootson fails to convey the fact that an investigation by the Obama administration Department of Justice found that the officer shot Brown in self-defense after Brown attacked him and as Brown was charging at him. In opposition to widely reported assertions that Brown held up his hands in surrender, the investigation found that such claims were either:
- “inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence,”
- “significantly inconsistent with the witness’s own prior statements,” or
- recanted when people in the neighborhood admitted “that they did not witness the shooting,” in contradiction to what they had told the media.
The Post’s standards and ethics state that “reporters and editors of the Post are committed to fairness,” and “no story is fair if it omits facts of major importance or significance. Fairness includes completeness.”
A 2015 scientific poll commissioned by Just Facts found that two-thirds of the public are unaware that the Obama administration’s investigation found no merit in claims that Brown raised his hands in surrender. This is partly because journalists like Wootson and media outlets like the Post often feed readers half-truths and biased rhetoric about this event.