Following the brutal killing of Tyre Nichols at the hands of the Memphis Police Department, right-wing media are blaming criticisms and reform of policing for making police violence worse; downplaying the role of racism; and dismissing systemic violence in law enforcement, suggesting Nichols’ death was due to the actions of "bad apples" rather than representative of law enforcement as a whole.
On January 7, police officers in Memphis pulled over Nichols, a Black man, in a traffic stop. Five officers, all part of the SCORPION Unit of the Memphis Police Department meant to monitor “high crime hotspots,” brutally beat Nichols, who died five days later in the hospital from his injuries. Cerelyn Davis, the Memphis police chief, described the officers’ actions as “heinous, reckless, and inhumane.”
The police department fired the five police officers, all of them Black men, on January 20 following an administrative investigation concluding that “they had violated department policies on excessive use of force.” Then, on January 26, a local district attorney announced that all officers were being charged with “second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two charges of aggravated kidnapping, two charges of official misconduct and one charge of official oppression.”
Video footage of the arrest was made available to the public on January 27, showing the officers kicking, pepper spraying, and shocking Nichols with a Taser. Memphis police also announced on January 28 that the SCORPION Unit was being deactivated. On January 30, a sixth police officer, a white man, was also dismissed for his role in the violent arrest of Nichols, along with three members of the Memphis Fire Department who responded to the scene.
Here’s how conservative media and guests are spinning coverage of the video release of Nichols’ arrest to align with their pro-policing agenda (content warning: The video plays in some of the linked clips):
Dismissing the role of white supremacy in police brutality because of the officers’ race
- On Fox News’ Jesse Watters Primetime, conservative and founder of the Woodson Center Bob Woodson diminished the role of white supremacy in policing by stating that “the danger is that they condemn all police because of the misdeeds of these officers and condemn this mantra that we should defund the police and that all police are agents of white supremacy and this other foolishness.”
- On Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight host Tucker Carlson asserted that “white people did not play any role in this particular tragedy,” alleging that Nichols’ murder was “not about racial bias. Any honest person could see that immediately. … Moments ago on MSNBC they just described what you just saw as white supremacy. Really? How?” Carlson later accused those of pointing to white supremacy as instigating a “highly aggressive propaganda campaign underway tonight, designed to manipulate you, and using the sad death of a young man in Memphis to do it” and said it was “another attempt by our leaders, of our country, to inflame racial hatred in the United States.”
- Also on Tucker Carlson Tonight, guest and lawyer Peter Kirsanow claimed that the “narrative is that Black cops, white cops, Asian cops, all cops are part of a white supremacy superstructure,” calling these claims “silly” and “dumb.”
- On Fox News’ Hannity, Fox News contributor Leo Terrell claimed, “There was no racial component to this case at all. These were bad officers, regardless of race, who basically murdered a Black man. This upsets the Democratic playbook.” Terrell continued, “There are bad Black officers, white officers, yellow officers, brown. It is excessive use of force, bad police misconduct.”
- On the same edition of the show, conservative radio host Larry Elder claimed, “There is zero evidence whatsoever that whatever happened to Tyre Nichols had to do with his race.” Elder also called out CNN political commentator Van Jones for saying there might be a racial bias in the killing and criticized Al Sharpton for supposedly perpetuating “the notion that the police are systemically racist,” adding, “It doesn't matter the race of the officer.”
- On Fox News’ Fox and Friends, Fox host Lawrence Jones asserted that “the system worked this time, and it's been working for a while” and accused “the libs on CNN and MSNBC [of] making it their own type of spin about white supremacy and all this nonsense. No one cares about that.”
Claiming that calls for reform, reform itself, and criticisms of police contribute to police violence
- On Fox’s The Faulkner Focus, lawyer Jonna Spilbor alleged that increased skepticism over policing in recent years has only made it worse, posing the question: “Have we inadvertently created more of the monster we have been trying to avoid by our treatment of police over the last three years?”
- Fox host Jesse Watters suggested that Nichols was killed because “police tactics have been hamstrung,” making it harder for them to subdue suspects.
- On Jesse Watters Primetime, Heather Mac Donald of the right-wing think tank the Manhattan Institute claimed that rather than receiving tactical and deescalation training that “cops are desperate for,” police officers are “given implicit bias training, diversity training — complete waste of money.”
- During the same edition of Jesse Watters Primetime, former police officer Bill Stanton complained about “onerous rules” that prohibit excessive force. Stanton lamented that police “can't put a leg on their back, you can't hold their shoulders. God forbid your arm go around their neck,” adding, “And that's why I think they did this.”
- On Tucker Carlson Tonight, author and politician Michael Shellenberger claimed that “the anti-police movement has blood on its hands” and tied killings of both Black people and police officers to “this anti-policing movement,” which he said led to “police leaving the force in droves, the demoralization of the police, the pulling back of the police.”
- Appearing on Outnumbered, Fox & Friends First co-host Todd Piro said reformed policing after the killing of George Floyd in 2020 was an “overreaction” leading to procedures “that help no one and in fact ruin the cities that many people espouse that they want to protect.”
Framing the cops involved as just a few bad apples
- As a guest on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, Fox News contributor Ted Williams downplayed the severity of the killing, attributing the issue to experience and age. He blamed “young, inexperienced officers” saying that “adrenalin was flowing and as a result of that Tyre Nichols was killed.”
- On Fox News’ The Faulkner Focus, anchor Harris Faulkner rehashed the common right-wing talking point that “this is not all cops,” adding: “I can't even imagine to be a police officer today and to know that this is going on.”
- On Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, The Daily Caller’s Vince Coglianese claimed that out of “60 million interactions between cops and American citizens every year, very few turn out like this.”
- On Fox News’ Hannity, Fox host Lawrence Jones sympathized with police, asserting that “cops are the only profession that are judged by the individuals -- the very few that do the wrong thing. They didn't just steal someone's life; they set the profession back.” Jones also warned viewers to “prepare for months of rage, prepare for cops to be demonized over the actions of these people.”
- Appearing on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, guest host Shannon Bream said, “We know the vast majority of men and women who take the uniform on in any law enforcement agency … do so, the vast majority, in a very selfless, very honorable way.”
- As a guest on Newsmax’s Saturday Report, former police officer and anti-vaxx activist Michael McMahon attempted to differentiate “good cops" from “bad cops” by condemning the actions of Nichols’ killers, stating, “There's nothing that a good cop hates more than a bad cop,” but also that “ there's 700,000 good cops left in this country.”
Rejecting calls for systemic change and doubling down on support for policing
- Appearing on Fox News’ Jesse Watters Primetime, former police Det. Rob O’Donnell insisted that “the system worked like it's supposed to work: It was swift and decisive, the investigation happened, the officers were fired, probable cause was determined, and they were arrested. This is how our system needs to work — it should work — and we need to have faith in that system.”
- As guests on Newsmax’s Prime News, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the attorney couple notorious for brandishing guns at peaceful protesters in St. Louis in 2020, not only sympathized with police, but defended Nichols’ killers as well, with Patricia McCloskey saying she has “a lot of concern” about police officers and that “they're just like anybody else — they get worked up, they get emotional, just like perhaps this fella did, and they wind up by doing some things that they wouldn't normally do. That doesn't make them bad people.” Mark McCloskey later suggested that “the system worked — they get arrested, they’re going to go to trial” while pointing the finger at protestors, who have remained peaceful, by saying that Nichols’ death is “not an excuse to go to the streets and do damage and try to kill people.”
- On the January 27 edition of Fox News’ Your World, former police Lt. Darrin Porcher said that the SCORPION Unit needed “more oversight, as opposed to removing” the unit.
- On Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, the Hoover Institution’s Victor Davis Hanson falsely claimed that following George Floyd’s death, there were calls to “defund and cut back the police, and we did that.” Hanson claimed that police are going to be “unfairly stereotyped” which will make it “harder to get the police to protect vulnerable communities.”