If you do a Google search of the term “bad cop” or “racist cop,” you will see tens of thousands of articles from all the mainstream media news outlets eviscerating and condemning our men and women in law enforcement. From this constant, overwhelming barrage you would think that all cops are the worst people to walk the earth. Obviously there can be a few bad individuals, but surely our law enforcement are the good guys, right? After all, they’re there to protect and serve. What if you type “hero cop” in the search bar? In doing so, I found that the front page of google only contains three mainstream media articles: one from a local Fox News affiliate (not even national news,) one from ABC News from 2017, and one from the BBC about a cop in India. Three total – on the first page of Google search results – and only two of which are from the United States. Of the two U.S. stories, only one article was written in the last three years – and that was local news, not national. Why? And does this unbalanced framing of law enforcement actually create an unfair view of the police in the public consciousness?
I have a friend who was a Program Director for CNN fifteen years ago. She mentioned back then how she chose the stories to run based on what would get the most views – the more salacious or inflammatory the better. For broadcast news networks, what you can charge for advertisements is based on your number of viewers, or in digital media, the number of impressions you get. Negative news sells. I asked her if any positive news ever came in, and she said that it did, she just never ran it. I specifically remember her saying it weighed on her, and I suspect it was a factor in her leaving the news media business entirely – and that was fifteen years ago. Presently, if you scroll down Google news, Apple news, Yahoo news, et. al., it’s an aggregate of the most click-bait and rage-bait headlines screaming at you to click on them, just like the tabloids used to scream at you from the checkout line while you waited to pay for your eggs. The mainstream media news has ceased to be about actual truth. It has devolved into creating exaggerated or false narratives just to sell ad space – and one of those easy targets for click bait: “bad” cops.
The problem with the “say-whatever-for-clicks” journalism, is that it has intended or unintended collateral damage. People become judged in the court of public opinion with the mainstream media dictating which facts the public gets to hear. A high profile example is the Amanda Knox case. Knox was tried and convicted of killing her housemate, Meredith Kercher in 2007. The media ran all types of salacious stories about her. One journalist even admitting years later that none of it was substantiated, but his role was to scoop other news outlets, and if he didn’t print the lies, someone else would, and therefore steal the attention that he was getting as a reporter. After her subsequent acquittal years later, Knox would say in interviews: “My innocence didn’t save me because the media created a story…and people liked that story….it was unfounded but it woke people’s imagination. The sensational and defamatory images also entered the courtroom. The investigation contaminated and the jury corrupted.” Any of this sound familiar? This is the mainstream media today. They printed lies and gross exaggerations. They ruined this girl’s life for clicks. The problem is, that this is textbook brainwashing. Repeating a narrative over and over until you pound it into someone’s head that it must be true, whether it’s that Amanda Knox is guilty or that all cops are bad and racist. What, then, is the result of the mainstream media’s “bad cop” false narrative? It creates a REAL narrative.
When the population is constantly brainwashed into believing through disproportionate journalism that all law enforcement is bad and racist, it creates real tension. It puts minorities immediately at odds with the police, because that’s the message the mainstream media feeds them. Cops are humans. They have families, they don’t want to die, and they don’t want to get hurt. When there is suddenly tension created, where everyone feels threatened, minorities see cops as enemies and cops feel that animosity. This creates a situation that can easily escalate to violence, and sometimes death. It didn’t have to be that way. The atmosphere didn’t have to start so toxic. It’s time we asked ourselves: is the issue that all cops are bad, or is the issue that the tens of thousands of mainstream media articles telling you cops are bad vastly outweigh the three telling you cops are good? Yes, there are a few bad cops, but most are heroes who put their lives at risk to protect people and uphold law and order – though we wouldn’t know it from the mainstream media. The media murdered the reputation of law enforcement for clicks – for money. The false narrative they created, has now become a real narrative.
Paul Leach is a professional writer and WGA member in Los Angeles. He has been interviewed in such publications as the New York Council on Cultural Affairs and the Huffington Post.