We trust the press to arbitrate the news, and rarely is that responsibility more important than with stories like that of Freddie Gray’s. But from Ferguson to Baltimore, a bizarre pro-police bias has seeped out of one of the country’s most visible papers: the Washington Post.
Two days ago, the Post published a story titled “Prisoner in van thought Gray ‘was trying to injure himself’.” The story repeated a version of Gray’s death as told by “a police document obtained by the Washington Post,” a document that was, the story later notes, written by a “Baltimore police investigator” relying on the testimony of an unnamed prisoner who could not see Gray in the van they shared because they were separated by a metal partition.
It’s not clear who leaked the document to writer Peter Hermann, though it seems obvious that the leaker was sympathetic toward the Baltimore police, if not actual police him or herself. On April 29, when the story was published, the circumstances of Gray’s death were still unclear, which the story noted:
The document, written by a Baltimore police investigator, offers the first glimpse of what might have happened inside the van. It is not clear whether any additional evidence backs up the prisoner’s version, which is just one piece of a much larger probe.
The Post accepted the responsibility of offering one of—if not the—first definitive reason for Gray’s death, and they reported that Gray killed himself by thrashing around the van. The story is, as of this writing, the most read article on the Post’s website, and when it was first published it immediately found the exact sorts of fans you expect it would. Here is Breitbart’s Ben Shapiro, one of the most openly vile commentators on the internet, using the report as a way of mocking Ferguson’s well-known populist chant:
Hands up, don't dramatically injure yourself by throwing yourself into metal partitions http://t.co/XibzrYmpUPApril 30, 2015
The story was gross two days ago, but it’s something even worse now that Baltimore state attorney Marilyn Mosby has charged the six cops involved in Freddie Gray’s death with crimes that include second-degree murder and manslaughter. Which is to say nothing of Donta Allen, the other prisoner in the van that the Post chose not to name, telling a local television station that the report leaked to the Post was distorted by the cops:
He tells WJZ he’s angry about an internal police report published in The Washington Post.
“And they trying to make it seem like I told them that, I made it like Freddie Gray did that to hisself (sic),” Allen said. “Why the [expletive] would he do that to hisself (sic)?”
Allen was in the van because he allegedly stole a cigarette from a store on North Avenue.
He was never charged. Instead he was brought straight to the station.
“I talked to homicide. I told homicide the same story.” Allen said.
A story he says is being distorted and now he fears being killed.
“I had two options today right, either come and talk to y’all and get my credibility straight with ya’ll and not get killed by these [expletive] or not tell a true story,” Allen added. “The only reason I’m doing this is because they put my name in a bad state.”
In planting stories that placed the burden for Gray’s death on his own shoulders, Baltimore police attempted to follow the same playbook that worked for the brass in Ferguson. Mosby, though, put a stop to that this afternoon, and now the Post has been left holding the bag.
Hermann’s story is not the only story the Post published about Freddie Gray, of course, but all the Vox-style explainers for the racist aunts of the world can’t make up for the fact that the Post participated in the Baltimore police’s tried-and-true anti-justice charade, only to be exposed right along with the same corrupt cops who would do anything to protect their brethren.
This deference towards the police recalls a visual piece published by the Post during Ferguson. Last August, after prosecuting attorney Bob McCulloch announced that a grand jury had decided not to press charges against police officer Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s death, the Post put together an illustrated slideshow that purported to visualize and explain exactly what happened in the moments before Brown was killed.
Before substantial changes were made to it, the slideshow essentially went to bat entirely for Wilson; one image in it illustrated Brown cocking back to punch a cowering Wilson, while another showed Brown charging at Wilson like an enraged bull. Any part of the story that would have benefited Brown—for instance, that he might have had raised his hands before being shot by Wilson—was cast into doubt with the phrase “witnesses say.”
The Post swayed towards the police in its Ferguson slideshow, and that same bias bled into and out of an exclusive on Freddie Gray that has been its most popular piece of coverage of Gray’s death.
If the Post has sources within Baltimore PD, they will hopefully leverage that access to write stories that serve the public’s interests instead of those of the cops. Was Donta Allen pressured into providing his testimony? Was the report fabricated? Neither question is asked by the Post, let alone answered. The only real doubting of the report comes via a quote from one of Gray’s attorneys—you know, gotta hear both sides.
Maybe the Post will do better next time, and we all know there will be a next time.
[image via Getty]