Reporting on Portland
I was working on a longer post about the Portland protests and specifically the way the story has been framed and reported. So, I surfed over to the FNC web site and saw the following story: Portland sees 150-round shooting at apartment building, as crowds continue violent clashes with police. The splash page was the screenshot at the top of this post.
The first two paragraphs of the story was as follows:
More than 150 rounds were fired and one woman was shot in Portland on Friday night while protesters on Saturday – some of whom appeared to impersonate press – threw glass bottles and shined lasers at city police officers sent to quell the nighttime unrest witnessed for more than two months straight.
Saturday marked the third night of federal and state law enforcement cooperation in Portland, as the Department of Homeland Security continues to weigh plans to withdraw from the liberal Oregon city.
(A chef’s kiss for “liberal Oregon city” BTW).
The events in paragraph one are accurate, but there is a major problem with the framing as the piece conflates multiple events in a way that is misleading. Specifically, the most egregious act of violence, the firing of 150 rounds that resulted in a woman being shot in the arm, took place at a different location from the event at the police station.
Indeed, they were over two miles apart from one another:
Also, they took place at different times. The FNC piece notes that the shooting took place at 11:08 pm. The piece does not state when the clash with police occurred but according to Oregonlive, the conflict was declared “an unlawful assembly” at 9:53 pm (and police accounts note that the protest started around 8:50pm).
The FNC piece does note in the fifth paragraph (right after quoting a resident using the phrase “it’s a war zone”):
Though it was not immediately clear whether the shooting was linked to demonstrations seen in Portland nearly every night since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the end of May, another resident, Kemoh Sulimani, connected the violence to the city’s efforts to defund police.
“They had a gang violence task force that are no longer funded, which is unfortunate because as soon as that defunding happened all of this really peaked up,” Sulimani told Fox 12.
The FNC framing is utterly dishonest. It takes a crime story and links it, without evidence, to the broader protests. It covers itself with “it was not immediately clear whether the shooting was linked to demonstrations” while leaving the impression that it was. It bolsters that impression by using quotations from bystanders expressing opinions that are made to sound ominously linked to anti-police protests. But, of course, the first quote was an understandable reaction to shots being fired in a neighborhood, and the second, while dealing with the funding for law enforcement, may or may not have had anything to do with recent calls to defund the police (we do not know when the gang task force was defunded and while the story makes implications, it does not tell us).
The police report (linked by FNC) does not make any linkage of the shooting to protests, nor does the Oregonlive version of the story: More than 150 rounds shot in Northeast Portland, one woman injured, police say.
It terms of proximity to downtown where the main protests have been taking place, note that the shooting was roughly 7 miles from the courthouse:
All of this matters because perceptions about these events are shaped by the way they are reported. FNC viewers are prone to take away the idea that Portland is truly under siege with breathless reports that conflate events and images that stoke fears. Such reporting is then used to justify federal actions such as the dubious use of DHS actors downtown.
And throw in stories like this for good measure: Army National Guard veteran on Portland unrest: ‘I think it’s time’ to ‘do something about it’
An Army National Guard veteran who helped stop a terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train in 2015, told “Fox & Friends Weekend” on Sunday that “no one really agrees with what the protesters are doing” in Portland.
Skarlatos made the comments after more than 150 rounds were fired and one woman was shot in Portland on Friday night while protesters on Saturday – some of whom appeared to impersonate press – threw glass bottles and shined lasers at city police officers sent to quell the nighttime unrest witnessed for more than two months straight.
So, more accurately, a Republican candidate for Congress has an opinion and is speaking here in that capacity, regardless of his past service or his heroic acts in 2015.
Again, the third paragraph conflates events in a highly misleading way.
And I will note: protestors should not throw glass bottles at the police, but if we are going to deal with these situations appropriately, we need proper reporting and understanding, not sensationalism designed to scare viewers.
And not only does reporting like this distort general public understanding, but we know that the President of the United States forms a substantial amount of his opinions about these matters by watching Fox News Channel.