New York Times gives glowing profile to right-wing writer who repackaged misleading claims about the police murder of George Floyd

Coleman Hughes’ column in The Free Press, a reactionary media outlet founded by Bari Weiss, repeated long-discredited myths about Floyd’s death

The New York Times on Thursday published a glowing profile of a right-wing writer who has spread conspiracy theories about George Floyd, the Black man who was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the summer of 2020. The writer, Coleman Hughes, is a young Black conservative influencer whose recent column about Floyd was published in The Free Press, a reactionary media outlet founded by Bari Weiss that masquerades as being nonideological.

Floyd’s death sparked a national uprising, with citizens demanding cities and states radically shift their resources away from police and prisons and toward social services like schools and community centers. Right-wing media outlets responded to the national movement by, among other things, lying about who — and what — was responsible for killing Floyd.

In Hughes’ January 16 column, he perpetuated two long-standing myths about Floyd’s death which author Radley Balko fact-checked in a detailed post on Substack. The Times’ soft-lens look at Hughes ignored these glaring factual misrepresentations — which Hughes noted are based in part on a review of a film called The Fall of Minneapolis — instead characterizing him as someone who simply “reject[s] progressive politics.”

But as Balko writes, Hughes is guilty of perpetuating serious errors about Floyd’s death.

The documentary makes a lot of outlandish claims, but I want to focus mostly on the two that I’ve seen most often. These are also the two claims that Hughes spends most of his piece promoting.

The first claim is that when Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s back and neck for nine minutes, it could not have been criminal assault because the Minneapolis Police Department has trained its officers -- including Chauvin -- to use that very technique.

The second claim is that Floyd’s official autopsy found that he died of a heart attack brought on by cardiovascular disease and drug use. Therefore, Chauvin could not have been responsible for Floyd’s death.

Both of these claims are false. The first claim is not only incorrect, the documentary engages in deceptive editing and convenient omissions to push it. In other words, the documentary is lying. The second claim is also incorrect, but the explanation is a bit more complicated.

Balko then goes on to explain in detail that the claim made by Hughes and the film, that Chauvin was following his training, is false.

So let’s start here: It is true that [Maximal Restraint Technique] was once a procedure taught and used by the MPD. It is not true — not by a long shot — that MRT is what Derek Chauvin used on George Floyd.

So even if we concede that the hold Chauvin used on Floyd is the MRT described in the manual (it isn’t), it was only supposed to be used briefly, and only to incapacitate a suspect long enough to use a device that Chauvin never used. The MRT was not intended -- and neither Chauvin nor anyone else was ever trained in it -- for use on a handcuffed, prone suspect for nine minutes.

Balko also briefly addresses the claim that Chauvin wasn’t responsible for Floyd’s death. 

I’ll discuss this more in my next post about the autopsy, but generally speaking, positional asphyxia occurs when someone is stuck in a position that restricts their ability to breathe. In Floyd’s case, medical expert witnesses for the prosecution told jurors that the weight Chauvin put on Floyd’s back and neck restricted his ability to expand his chest and diaphragm. This limited both his oxygen intake and his ability to expel carbon dioxide. So Floyd was starved of oxygen even as CO2 built up in his blood, a lethal combination that ultimately resulted in cardiac arrest.

What that means is that the official autopsy, which cited cardiopulmonary arrest as the cause of death, doesn’t absolve Chauvin. To the contrary, the report found that Floyd’s death was a homicide. Or, as Balko wrote, the “positional asphyxia” that occurred because of Chauvin’s actions “ultimately resulted in cardiac arrest.”

Multiple news outlets have previously debunked the claim that Floyd’s death was caused by drug use or cardiovascular disease. As PolitiFact concluded, “Fentanyl was found in Floyd’s system, but two autopsy reports found that Floyd’s death was a homicide, not a fentanyl overdose.”