With 24-hour news cycle focused firmly on the events in Ferguson since the findings of the grand jury, I would like to discuss the media coverage. In my opinion, the mainstream media spins itself in the direction of solid ratings and the truth be damned. It has been disappointing to see the public misled by faulty journalism.
Nearly three months after the shooting, I am still hearing about the slow police response to the crime scene. Four hours for that poor suspect to lie in the street was “an injustice.” Having investigated many major crime scenes, I can tell you that the photography, examination, and forensic collection at a death scene can take days, not hours. It is not an injustice to seek to uncover the truth.
Those of us who are detectives and crime scene technicians know that you can only properly process a crime scene once. It is very meticulous work that is objective, avoids contamination, and seeks to uncover every piece of evidence available. It cannot be rushed. You have to get it right the first time.
The deceased cannot be moved until all evidence in and around the body can be examined. To do so could alter the integrity of the scene, eliminate vital clues, or introduce items not present at the incident. Fingerprints, fibers, DNA, blood spatter, footwear impressions, and other physical evidence are delicate and perishable.
But the news reporters and their hired guns, those who have never donned a latex glove or shoe cover in their lives, insisted to their audiences that four hours was too long. They do not know what they are talking about and their opinions are harmful. Worse, their assertions were the flawed foundations upon which laymen built their understanding of this case.
From the earliest moments of the shooting and subsequent investigation, news shows had recklessly pushed for instant transparency, as if this tragic event was a network drama that should be solved in, say, about an hour (with commercials). Justice also takes patience.
The reporters and experts asserted that there was a lack of “good, timely information” coming to the both media and Brown family from law enforcement. Apparently to the media, good information equals speculation because that is all you have in the early stages of an investigation. It is irresponsible news reporting to treat speculation as fact.
Case in point, the very symbol of Michael Brown’s innocence, hands raised in the air, was erroneously reported as fact to viewers and readers of the media outlets. Physical evidence and credible witness testimony showed he was not surrendering with his hands up, but since it was told on TV, it persisted as the truth.
Transparency does not apply while a crime is actively examined; it is the manner in which information is released at the end of an investigation—weeks or months later. Cries that the police were not talking only spurred disinformation being promulgated as the truth. Much of what is urban legend now about the confrontation between Ofc. Wilson and Brown in Ferguson is the direct result of the media trying to feed their viewers. Unfortunately, it was junk food.
In the aftermath of last week’s media circus, I have been dumbfounded by “former federal prosecutors,” “law school professors,” and other “experts,” who stated that St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch mishandled the grand jury.
The “experts” that I heard must have missed the day in law school that they taught how the justice system prosecutes cases. For the uninitiated, the prosecutor’s office first decides whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime actually occurred. Secondly, the prosecutor’s office decides whether the accused committed the crime.
From my experience, in 99% of cases the prosecutor’s office decides if a defendant will be charged. In the remaining one percent, the facts and circumstances of the case are given to a grand jury to rule if probable cause exists. Neither course is a trial. They exist to explore if there should be one. Media personalities complained that Ofc. Wilson was not cross-examined. Yeah, he wasn’t because he was not on trial!
McCulloch’s office could have investigated the incident, found no p/c, and filed a No Information, ending the case. Instead, McCulloch brought the case to a grand jury for consideration. In doing so, McCulloch took himself out of the equation and let the grand jury weigh the evidence for themselves. His office went above the normal standard to give the grand jury all the testimony and evidence available for the case. The grand jury found insufficient evidence to charge Wilson.
Recall that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. A grand jury of his peers said no crime was committed by Ofc. Wilson, therefore a trial was unwarranted. Let’s all please move on. I sometimes have to remember that news shows are slaves to their Nielsen ratings and beholden to their advertisers. We should not believe for a moment that the truth can be learned from mere infotainment.