A couple of weeks ago the red face belonged to FBI Director James B. Comey. He made some remarks in a couple of speeches that raised the ire of many folks, including the President of the United States. Comey, speaking at the University of Chicago, addressed the issue of a recent spike in violent crime, a phenomenon the Director blamed on the fact that police were reluctant to do their job for fear that they would be caught on video by citizens. The implication was clear: cameras cause an increase in homicides!
The statement was dealt with quickly by the administration in Washington, where the White House press secretary quickly issued a statement that the evidence does not support Comey’s theory. But to give credit where it is due, Comey also admitted that he had no facts to back up his assertion.
This brings us to a purported FBI “alert” reported initially by the New York Post, which stated that it had been told by the FBI – supposedly in the form of a press release – that an anarchist group known as the National Liberation Militia might be planning to dress up in Halloween garb, create disturbances, and then ambush police when they came to investigate. Although the FBI source was not named, numerous news outlets jumped on the bandwagon, and the story was repeated by CBS, the Washington Times, Fox News, and others. But there’s a problem: the group mentioned – the National Liberation Militia – apparently does not exist; there is no mention of the alert on the FBI website, which is updated frequently; and the FBI has refused to confirm the story. So what happened?
Well, we can speculate, and there appear to be a few possibilities: first, that the Post made up the story out of whole cloth, which is not likely, in our opinion; second, that an FBI source provided the info, knowing the Post would never question its authenticity; or third, that the story was fed to the Post by someone at the NYPD, claiming that they got the info from the feds.
While we may never know the truth, the entire episode does demonstrate some problems with journalistic integrity and/or accuracy. In that regard, no one checked with the FBI on the issue; rather, everyone simply cited the Post claim to support their reports. Second, media manipulation by law enforcement is nothing new. After the Freddie Gray death, to cite just one example, the Baltimore PD reported on the day of the funeral that it had received “credible threats” that members of various gangs were going to kill police officers in the city. That report turned out to be completely false.
So the Post story, in the end, is just one of a list of baseless news reports which were designed to support a political agenda, and which had the effect of heightening tensions (including racial tensions) in the community. It also provides some support for the position put forth by Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) when it comes to newspapers. He said he doesn’t read them because he’d rather be uninformed than misinformed!
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