Cable news devoted minimal coverage to the killing of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards by a police officer in the days after his death. At a time when President Donald Trump’s administration is taking steps to drastically reduce measures that hold police accountable, the media’s job as a watchdog is of utter importance. In this case, cable news all but abdicated that role.
Edwards was shot by Officer Roy Oliver in a Dallas suburb on April 29. He died shortly after. A statement from the Balch Springs Police Department released on April 30 stated that Edwards was in “a vehicle backing down the street towards the Officers in an aggressive manner,” which led an officer to shoot at the vehicle. On May 1, however, police “changed their story on the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting,” according to CNN.com, after body camera footage “showed the car was driving forward, away from the officers, not reversing toward them." On May 2, the Balch Springs police chief announced that the department had fired Oliver.
A Media Matters analysis found the story has barely broken through on cable news, if at all. In the four days after Edwards’ death, MSNBC has mentioned the fatal police shooting four times, while CNN has mentioned it two times. Fox News, however, did not mention the shooting at all. All of the mentions took place on May 2 and 3, meaning the cable networks did not cover the story until it was reported that the officer had lied about his account of the shooting.
Media coverage of police brutality and abuses of power is especially important under President Trump. In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum to “cut back on federal oversight of local law enforcement,” USA Today reported. In the memo, Sessions wrote, “It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.” As The Atlantic wrote, “When local governments violate the basic constitutional rights of citizens, Americans are supposed to be able to look to the federal government to protect those rights. Sessions has made clear that when it comes to police abuses, they’re now on their own.”
With Sessions reducing federal oversight on local law enforcement, the press is one of the most prominent institutions left to hold police accountable for bad behavior. This new reality is worrisome, to say the least, as media outlets have repeatedly criminalized black and other non-white victims of police violence. Additionally, conservative media have repeatedly portrayed advocates calling for reforms to curb police brutality, including Black Lives Matter, as criminals and terrorists. The lack of coverage cable news devoted to Edwards’ death shows that, so far, media haven’t stepped up to the plate.
Media Matters searched CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News on SnapStream for mentions of “Edward” or “Jordan” between April 30 and May 3 and coded for mentions of Jordan Edwards. Mentions were counted if they took place between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m.