Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Anatomy of a Snow Job - Washington Post Takes A Snowball To The Face

Writing at Reason, Radley Balko delves into the many troublesome issues brought to light in the wake of D.C. detective Mike Baylor pulling his weapon on a crowd of snowball fighters.

Bringing a gun to a snowball fight is bad form, even if your precious Hummer gets hit in the cross-fire. Having the traditional media publish the cop's account while criticizing bloggers and Washington's City Paper, who got the story right, is worse,

Even after one of the WaPo reporters, who was there, relayed details to support the snowballer's version, the Post proceeded to publish an inaccurate accounting of the events, rather than questioning police brass or availing themselves of video and still pictures shot at the scene by a number of technology-savvy ballers.

Balko hits the nail on the head:

The more interesting part of this story, however, is the initial reaction from Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department (MPDC) and the traditional D.C. media. Despite the fact that video and photographic evidence of Det. Baylor drawing his gun were already widely available on the web, MPDC Assistant Chief Pete Newsham initially issued a series of what can only be called bold-faced lies. Newsham first told the Washington City Paper, "There was no police pulling guns on snowball people." In fact, there were two.

Newsham's rush to clear Baylor's name came before the slightest bit of investigation. Newsham also quickly deferred to Baylor's stellar reputation and years of service, distinguishing the noble public servant from the unruly yahoos making accusations against him. That would be fine if Newsham was Baylor's attorney. But he isn't. He's in charge of the MPDC unit responsible for investigating officer misconduct. And here he was disseminating clear and provable lies.

Forget the gun-waving Baylor. This is the real scandal. You'd be awfully naive to think the only time Newsham has publicly lied to defend a MPDC officer accused of misconduct was coincidentally the one time the officer's accusers were tech-savvy hipsters armed with cell phones and video cameras. D.C. Police Chief Kathy Lanier's investigation into the incident ought to go well beyond Baylor. From where did the false information Newsham perpetuated originate? Why was Newsham, whose position is that of a trusted liason between the department and the public, so quick to use bad information to defend a fellow officer? Shouldn't this incident call his judgment into question in other cases? Is he still fit for the job?

The entire story is worth a read.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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