Police officers have been committing violence against protesters in dozens and dozens of cities during protests after the police slaying of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd, and social media and many news organizations are documenting dozens of examples. But this past weekend’s coverage from the corporate broadcast evening news shows on ABC and CBS largely downplayed the widespread police violence.
A review of their coverage by Media Matters found that evening news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC spent approximately 1 hour and 12 minutes covering the protests on Saturday and Sunday. But only about 10 minutes total was spent covering violence by police. ABC used 7% of its protest coverage to report on police violence while CBS covered it for 9% of its time. In contrast, NBC did better at 23% although there were still some problematic segments.
Some of the networks’ coverage of the protests left much to be desired. For example, during this segment on Sunday, ABC’s chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl referred to some protesters as violent and said they had “made their anger known,” but failed to mention any police violence against protesters -- except for citing “the darkest moments of the civil rights struggle” when covering Trump’s statement that White House protesters could be met by “vicious dogs.” And in this NBC segment from Sunday, NBC News correspondent Gabe Gutierrez described violence from police -- including against other NBC journalists -- as “a desperate attempt to squelch days of escalating chaos.”
However, as Slate aptly put it on May 31, police officers have erupted in violence against the protesters outraged by that very same violence: “Police all over the country tear-gassed protesters, drove vehicles through crowds, opened fire with nonlethal rounds on journalists or people on their own property, and in at least one instance, pushed over an elderly man who was walking away with a cane.” In Seattle, police officers sprayed mace in a little girl’s face. Police officers have deliberately driven their vehicles into crowds of protesters in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Diego. And in Atlanta, a local TV news station showed video of heavily armed police attacking and dragging a Black couple from a car, slashing their tires and firing Tasers at them.
And it’s not just protesters and bystanders that the police are attacking. Police officers in Minneapolis shot out the eye of one reporter with a rubber bullet -- she won’t be able to see out of her left eye again. Another reporter detailed how police officers shot her and other journalists with tear gas canisters “at point blank range.” A Wall Street Journal reporter said police repeatedly beat him with a riot shield. And there have been multiple videos of reporters being assaulted and shot by police with so-called nonlethal rounds while reporting on the protests. According to a June 1 Nieman Lab article, police officers have attacked journalists more than 100 times during the protests -- and most of the attacks by police were clearly and deliberately targeted at them as press.
Some news organizations are correctly pointing out that the story to be covered here is the police violence. Even some police departments are admitting they’re out of control -- two of the officers who violently attacked a couple in their car in Atlanta were fired Sunday.
Media Matters searched the SnapStream video database for transcripts of the weekend editions of ABC’s World News Tonight and NBC’s Nightly News and CBS’s Weekend News for any of the terms “chaos,” “curfew,” “unrest,” “fire,” “car,” “gas,” “rubber,” or “cruiser” or any variations of the terms “violence,” “escalate,” “loot,” “kill,” or “arrest” within close proximity of any of the terms “police,” “law,” “officer,” “justice,” or “guard” or any variations of the terms “protest,” “riot,” or “authority” for May 30 and 31, 2020. In instances where the video was unavailable, we manually scanned such episodes archived on the networks’ respective websites.
We timed any coverage of the protest, including segments about the protests, teasers for upcoming segments, and mentions of the protests in segments about other topics. We also timed any coverage of police violence, including onscreen text, background video, or speech about such violence.