After officers shoot Stephon Clark 20 times, Fox News smears protesters and portrays police as the victims

After officers shoot Stephon Clark 20 times, Fox News smears protesters and portrays police as the victims

Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

On March 18, police officers in Sacramento, CA, gunned down Stephon Clark, an unarmed 22-year-old black man and father of two, in his grandmother’s backyard, sparking protests and drawing nationwide media coverage. Fox News’ reporting on the shooting has almost entirely focused on the most disruptive protests, diminishing the message of the demonstrators while portraying them as intimidating and lawless. One Fox correspondent also said the reactions to Clark’s death could actually end up harming police officers, pointing to the officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, as an example.

Fox has a history of disparaging coverage of protesters -- even peaceful protesters -- particularly those protesting police brutality. The network will commonly exaggerate the disruption caused by protests and cherry-pick examples to misrepresent the overall movement. (The pattern, of course, doesn’t hold true if those protesters are white nationalist, anti-immigrant, or tea party protesters.)

Mainstream media outlets allow activists’ voices to be heard and provide a well-rounded account of the protests

An ABC affiliate spoke to protesters at a Sacramento City Council meeting, one of whom explained that the demonstrations are “the first step, and you want to have conversations with the people who can make the changes.” An ABC affiliate aired balanced footage of protesters yelling, but also sitting, speaking calmly, and supporting one another. The report emphasized that the protesters showed "solidarity" and that they were "sisters, brothers, fathers, and mothers." They also spoke to one protester at the meeting who said, “I know there's good cops out there, you know, and I don’t believe all cops are bad. I think we have some issues that need to be changed, some systemic issues that need to be changed.”

Other national cable news networks provided well-rounded depictions of the March 27 protests and allowed the protesters’ voices to be heard. MSNBC’s Joe Fryer described footage in his report as “Stephon Clark’s brother Stevante bursting into the council chambers” while “some in the crowd called for calm.” The MSNBC report showed clips of activists describing the pain in their community after the fatal shooting and included an interview with Clark’s grandmother. CNN correspondent Dan Simon highlighted the more chaotic aspects of the protests while also underscoring the “impactful moment” when activists voiced their discontent.

CNN: “There was no violence and there were no arrests” at the protest outside the Sacramento Kings game. CNN’s coverage of the March 22 protest outside the Kings basketball game made clear that the team was supportive of the protests and mentioned that “there was no violence and there were no arrests.” The reporter also spoke to Stevante Clark, whose comments included, “We’re afraid. We’re afraid. It’s not the first, and it won’t be the last. I think that’s what hurts the most.”

N.Y. Times highlighted comments from the Clark family’s lawyer, reporting that he “emphasized that in high-profile criminal cases when proven assailants are white … police officers showed restraint that is not afforded to black suspects.” The New York Times reported on comments made by civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who will be representing the Clark family, who asked, “Why is that young black people and young brown people don’t get the same consideration” as white assailants do when they are pursued by police. The Times also published comments from a protester who said, “We run because we’re scared because they have the right to shoot us, they get away with it every day.”

Fox’s coverage casts protesters as violent and unproductive

Reporter describes March for Our Lives protesters as more peaceful than Clark protesters. Fox correspondent Alicia Acuna reported on Saturday that she “did not see instances where there was a lot of anger expressed” at the March for Our Lives and that protesters there “were relatively peaceful.” By contrast, Acuna commented, “That is far different from what they saw last night” in Sacramento, with the report cutting to video of protesters yelling while surrounded by police.

Fox host Abby Huntsman: “Demonstrators in Sacramento showing no sign of calming down.” On March 24, a Fox & Friends headline report about protesters in Sacramento over the weekend focused on participants “confronting police officers and blocking drivers in traffic, some even becoming violent by breaking the window of a car.”

Fox report focuses on critics of protests outside a Sacramento Kings game, including one man who hyped demonstrators as violent. Fox correspondent William LaJeunesse spoke to people attending a March 22 Sacramento Kings game who were temporarily blocked from entering the arena and who complained about the inconvenience imposed upon them by the protesters. One man commented, “The violence kind of muddles the message,” and LaJeunesse reported that one man was knocked unconscious.

Fox & Friends sensationalized Sacramento City Hall protests, repeatedly playing footage of protesters jumping on tables. Fox & Friends' coverage of the March 27 demonstrations focused on footage of protesters yelling and standing on tables.

Fox’s Jonathan Hunt: Protesters “have targeted the Sacramento Kings.” Fox co-host Sandra Smith introduced a report on the March 27 protests by commenting that the “protesters [were] standing on tables demanding answers.” She and correspondent Jonathan Hunt both reported that protesters also “targeted the Sacramento Kings.” In an earlier report, correspondent Trace Gallagher had mentioned that the Kings supported the protests, but Hunt failed to include that context in his coverage.

A Fox correspondent compared Clark to Michael Brown, emphasizing that the officer who killed Brown “lost his job, got numerous death threats, and still lives in relative isolation.” After reporting on the facts surrounding Clark’s murder, Gallagher made a foreboding comparison between Clark and Michael Brown and seemed to portray  Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, as a victim.
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