The fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old named Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, this August triggered weeks of riots and looting, as well as nonstop media coverage. The press quickly developed a formula for reporting on the “unrest,” as the media still call such violence: select some aspect of Ferguson’s political or civic culture; declare that feature racist, by virtue of its being associated with Ferguson; disregard alternative explanations for the phenomenon; blame riots on it. Bonus move: generalize to other cities with similar “problems.”
Some examples: Ferguson’s population is two-thirds black, but five of its six city council members are white, as is its mayor. Conclusion: this racial composition must be the product of racism. Never mind that blacks barely turn out to vote and field practically no candidates. Never mind that the mayor ran for a second term unopposed. Is there a record of Ferguson’s supposed white power structure suppressing the black vote? None has been alleged. Did the rioters even know who their mayor and city council representatives were? The press didn’t bother to ask. But this “problem” is disturbingly widespread, in the media’s eyes: MOSTLY BLACK CITIES, MOSTLY WHITE CITY HALLS, announced a New York Times front-page story on September 29, complete with a sophisticated scatter-graph visual aid.
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