Why do media love police so much?
In a description of two officers who now work together (again) after one retired and came back, the newspaper wrote:
“With their tall frames, broad shoulders, vice-like handshakes and easy-going attitudes, Johnson and Harris look and act like they could be brothers. The men and their careers could affectionately be referred to as old school. Harris started his career doing double-duty as a patrol officer and the city’s first animal services officer. His days as an officer ended after chasing down a man from the Johnson County Courthouse who was just found guilty of murder.
Up until his retirement, Johnson kept two sets of cuffs on him at all times even when much of his time was spent behind a desk. Police Chief Sam Hargadine called him a “patrolman’s patrolman.”
Now, I do not hate police officers. I do, however, dislike the connections that media continue to foster with other institutions, such as police, government, business. Reporters may make choices about words, sources, quotes that are used. But it is the newspaper organization of editors, other reporters, and readers who also influence what words remain and are ultimately published.
This story, then, is a representation not just of a reporter’s choice of story topic and language. It also reveals the close connections media have with the establishment.
But a Facebook exchange between myself and other “Facebook Friends” this week revealed other thoughts about how media select stories and what some of us think they mean. I share the comments here, but mask the commenters’ identities.
My comment: “why is this a fucking story? o. wait. white police officers? i get it now. RUN THAT THING!”
Reporter 1: “I very much doubt it has anything to do with skin color. I bet the reason is much more simple: Overworked reporter, need for copy, Gannett paper.”
Me: “You are right. But it is much more complex than it is simple, right? I can’t see how it is not about race. I can see it being about what you discussed, but also about race and the incestuous relationship between media and police and the celebratory nature of how we discuss police in our culture. No?”
Reporter 1: “Perhaps, though I could see that same story being written about two black officers. The point is this: No paper should run a story that matters so little, regardless of race.”
Master’s graduate: “Ted, you think too damn much. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
Reporter 2: “What’s wrong with a story about good cops?”
Reporter 1: “Hey, [Reporter 2]! How’s it going? Nothing wrong with a story about good cops. This particular story, especially the top, didn’t do much for me.”
Me: “I think the news media do enough to promote the desires and position of police that it doesnt seem needed to have yet another story about ‘good cops’”
So what does this conversation reveal?
Certainly, the racial/cultural/and social dimensions within the news. But it also reveals the conflicts (for a lack of better word right now) between reporters themselves, within the interpretive community of newsworkers about what 1) is a “good” story, 2) what is a story in the first place, 3) and what news stories mean, 4) or don’t mean.
What do you think: Do we cover issues of race and police in the news with the same tones? Would we see (even in the markets where it would be more expected) such glowing stories of Black police officers? Why was this story selected and not a profile on a “regular person” in our community EVEN IF the reporter had nothing else to do? Finally, how and why did THIS story make it onto a news budget and then into the paper?