On Sunday, June 23, 2019, Officer Michael Langsdorf of the North County Police Cooperative in Missouri responded to a call of a subject—later identified as 26-year-old Bonette Kymbrelle Meeks—attempting to pass a fraudulent check at a local food market.

Shortly after Officer Langsdorf's arrival at the scene, a struggle ensued in which Meeks somehow overcame Langsdorf. Meeks stood, drew a firearm from his waistband, and fired a single shot.

Immediately after the shooting, the store clerk on duty that day—a woman named Kashina Harper—made two wildly divergent decisions.

The first was admirable—the second was questionable.

Harper grabbed Langsdorf's radio from his duty belt and called in that he'd been shot, setting off an avalanche of first responders cascading to the scene.

Good on her for that quick thinking.

However, Harper then did something that even she now says was ill-advised.

She began live-streaming the scene on her Facebook page as Officer Langsdorf drew his final breaths face down in the store.

Perishing Professionalism

I'm going to grant Kashina Harper the benefit of the doubt—she probably wasn't thinking about the negative outcome of her decision to become a "citizen journalist."

Hell, she probably wasn't thinking at all.

She was probably in shock at the horror unfolding before her.

I don't condone Ms. Harper's actions, but I won't villainize her.

What she did was undeniably awful, but a person can do something utterly idiotic without willful intent.

People are fallible. People make mistakes.

However, what happened next is where things get royally reckless and irresponsible.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch—a publication that has existed under several different names since 1878 and has won 19 Pulitzer Prizes—made the totally outrageous decision to share on its website the live Facebook stream posted by Ms. Harper.

This is muckraking journalism on steroids.

This is the equivalent of opening a window of the newspaper's offices and throwing the printed copy of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics to the sidewalk below.

Some unknown editor at the newspaper saw the opportunity to be the hottest thing on the internet that day, and with callous disregard for every rule of human decency posted that live feed to the publication's website.

Kashina Harper has 4,994 "friends" on Facebook.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a print circulation of just fewer than 100,000. The number of people who access that publication's website is unknown to me but it's certainly higher.

Sadly, the media marketplace today is not as much about ethical, responsible reporting as it is about being the fastest to post the hottest and most salacious content.

If it bleeds, it leads.

Following the inevitable public outrage over posting something so disgusting and insensitive, the newspaper pulled its link to the live Facebook feed.

Sorry (Not Sorry)

Then the publication published an "apology" entitled, "From the Editor's Desk: An apology to our readers."

The post read, in part:

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch made a serious error in judgment Sunday in its online coverage of the fatal shooting of North County Police Cooperative Officer Michael Langsdorf.

Our newspaper apologizes to the Langsdorf family, members of law enforcement and our readers for making a major mistake in covering a tragedy.

The headline alone tells the story.

The headline should have read: "An apology to the family, friends, and fellow officers of Michael Langsdorf."

The "apology" then went on to tout the publication's ethical standards to "minimize harm" for those who may be affected by their news coverage and its intentions to review policies and procedures.

The mainstream media routinely demands accountability from the police and claims the moral high-ground as those in charge of that mission. But who holds the mainstream media accountable? The readers? The advertisers? Nobody?

Media misconduct with regard to the reporting on myriad matters involving law enforcement is not new, but what happened this week was close to an all-time low.

The Sausage Factory

There's an old axiom about the creation of laws and legislation that also applies to the creation of content on the internet—especially news content.

It goes something like:

"If you like sausage, don't look closely at how it's made."

I've been a journalist for nearly two decades—I've worked in the sausage factory for nearly half my life.

I'm as fortunate as a person can be in this profession because I've worked beside some wonderful writers and editors whose ethical and journalistic standards are truly top-notch.

The "apology" by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is as bad an example of "damage control" as I've ever seen.

The initial posting of the video link was nothing less than blatant exploitation and sensationalism—it was uncaring and cruel.

The subsequent "apology" was hollow, emotionless, rote, and vain. It was mechanical.

And I don't believe one word of it to be sincere.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has for years been regularly trying to turn chaos into clicks and tragedy into treasure. The handling of the death of Officer Langsdorf is just the most recent example.

The credibility of this publication was destroyed by their severely biased coverage of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown back in August 2014.

Let's not forget that the Post-Dispatch was among the first publications to introduce the false narrative of "hands up, don't shoot" following that officer-involved shooting.

This is the publication that repeatedly called the people who were burning and destroying buildings in Ferguson "protesters" instead of rioters, looters, and criminals.

In its most recent actions, the anti-police bias of the editorial staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been rendered totally transparent.

My hope is that journalists across the country take a moment to reflect on how big an error the St. Louis Post-Dispatch made, and view it as a cautionary tale.

My hope is that writers and editors in news rooms from sea to shining sea reread that SPJ Code of Ethics document.

I just did.

Author

Doug Wyllie
Doug Wyllie

Web Editor

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

View Bio

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

View Bio
0 Comments