Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Killing of reporters by disgruntled fellow brings up more subtle issues in race, even from my own past


The horrific events near Roanoke VA this morning, do bear some relation to an episode in my life in the 1990s.  Vox’s latest summary is here and the chronicled details are available in many places.
  
I got a tweet from following a college journalist friend with an image of the event, which I saved for personal use but will not republish (copyright, for one thing).  This sequence was one of the most telling where a perpetrator wanted “revenge” played out in detail in social media.  The asymmetry of social media means it can be used for “bad”, as we already know from covering international affairs. 

The major social media companies all removed these images and videos as quickly as they could, and closed the former reporter’s accounts promptly. Furthermore, we have another instance where the word “Manifesto” gets a bad rap.  After all, my first book was called “The Manifesto”, as if “from on high”.   The full text has not been released, but a local station has some excerpts and some tweets before deletion, here. 
   
It can't be overlooked how this incident highlighted the idea that journalism can involve personal risk.  It's not supposed to in the US, but I know of some harrowing close-calls during the Baltimore riots. Anderson Cooper has a film "Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty", my "cf: blog, March 3, 2009. 
  
The main issue that caught my attention was how the perpetrator played up race.  I’ll jump ahead, and mention reports that he wanted to carry out the Charleston shooter’s “race war”.  There is an element in our world culture that believes civilians, police and military are all equally “fair game” in conflict, as we know from international events (and, for that matter, for a lot of behavior throughout history, including both Hitler and Stalin during and after WWII).  The polite word is “war crimes”.

The perpetrator claimed to be a “victim” of past racial injustice and played it up.  No doubt, all the recent incidents involving police behavior in various states and cities (Ferguson is not the best example because of the facts) could have filled his mind, too.  But his story seems to have tracked back to inadequate performance in the past in his job as a reported.  One account said he made too many factual errors in his reporting.  Fact checking is a real rite-of-passage for “professional” reporters. That had even been described as an issue in Foster Winans’s 1988 book “Trading Secrets”.
  
There are various accounts of his complaints with the EEOC claiming racial discrimination. I was in the middle of something like this in the middle 1990s (but with none of the violence).  I transferred and replaced an African-American who had been terminated, apparently for performance.  This is a long story and I won’t get into detail here.  But he sued the company, and I wound up giving some depositions.  I even have a copy of my sworn testimony, which I do not legally own in a copyright sense.  The case was dismissed (later appealed) and went away.  But had it gone to trial, it could have interfered with my publishing my first book in 1997 and move to Minneapolis.  I may give more details on Wordpress later as some of them do create teaching points.  One issue was that he had claimed he would be “promoted”, whereas I actually preferred remaining an “individual contributor.”


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