As the dominant news media inform viewers of controversial police shooting cases in which there is debate about whether the officers acted lawfully, there has been a blatant double standard in spending substantially more time on victims who are black, even though blacks only make up a little more than one out of four suspects who are killed by police, with whites outnumbering blacks in the count by 2:1.
An examination of recent CNN, MSNBC, and FNC coverage of the aftermath of black shooting victim Stephon Clark in Sacramento, contrasted with the aftermath of white victim Justine Damond in Minneapolis from July 2017, finds that MSNBC has spent almost 10 times as much time on the Clark case while CNN has spent about 2.5 as much time.
FNC was closer to being balanced as it devoted about 22 percent more time to the aftermath of the Damond case, versus that of the Clark case.
Similarly, going back to the Philando Castile shooting from July 2016, when it was announced in November 2016 that charges would be pursued against the officer involved, CNN and MSNBC both updated viewers, with CNN providing more than 27 minutes worth of updates, while MSNBC gave it about 2 minutes 25 seconds.
But, when it was announced in March 2018 that charges would be pursued against the officer in the Damond case, CNN only provided a total of 56 seconds as the story was buried in two news briefs during the Early Start show, one of which aired on March 21 and the other on March 22, airing around 4:20 a.m. ET on both days. This means CNN actually devoted 29 times as much time to the charges in the Castile case in contrast with the Damond case — even though both cases raised serious questions about the behavior of the officer involved, and even happened in the same geographic area.
MSNBC did not update viewers on the Damond story at all. FNC did not run updates after charges were filed in either the Castile story from November 2016, or the Damond case in March 2018, as it awaited the final outcome of the Castile story before revisiting it.
An examination of MSNBC shows in recent weeks that run between 5:00 a.m. and midnight ET finds that the Clark story received just over 235 minutes, while the Damond case received almost 24 minutes in later part of July.
And on CNN, the shows that air between 4:00 a.m. and midnight ET gave stories about Clark, including the protests in Sacramento, just over 272 minutes in recent weeks, whereas the Damond story was given about 109 minutes in late July.
And, in the time period between 4:00 a.m. and midnight ET, FNC spent almost 70 minutes on Clark, and just over 85 minutes on Damond.
The dominant media’s disproportionate fixation on police shooting victims who are black creates the illusion that nearly all victims are black, and implicitly suggests widespread racism by police officers, even though statistics show that white suspects shot and killed by cops outnumber black suspects by about a 2-1 margin. According to the Washington Post, around 27 percent of police shooting victims are black, and, if one looks at FBI crime statistics from the past several years, including those compiled by the Obama administration Justice Department, the numbers are not wildly inconsistent with patterns of crime.
Such selective coverage has helped lead to public figures like CNN’s April Ryan and veteran singer Harry Belafonte wrongly claiming that police shooting victims are mostly black.
Any police shooting should be taken seriously by those who are responsible for making sure officers are acting appropriately, and cases where there is serious room for debate about whether deadly force was necessary, or whether unnecessary mistakes were made, are worthy of some level media attention. But it is also important not to make Americans of any race unreasonably fearful of police officers, or to incite demonization of law enforcement.