Christine Byers Tweeted What? How Authorities Use the Press to Disseminate Their Narrative

A reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch made an amazing claim about witnesses to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. It immediately became the sole source for multiple stories on several websites and was RTed by journalists like Jake Tapper. But elementary fact-checking has blown her claim to smithereens.

As the world watches Ferguson roil, the media is filling up with stories speculating about the details of the interaction between Michael Brown and officer Darren Wilson that left the unarmed 18 year-old dead in the streets. I've previously written about how different news organizations are framing the protests and civil disobedience in the wake of the killing.

But as autopsies are completed and investigations continue, there has been a pattern of behavior on the part of the St. Louis area authorities, both within the Ferguson PD and the County Prosecutor's Office. Through a combination of overt and covert actions, these authorities have selectively released information that casts the victim, Michael Brown, in a negative light. Tommy Christopher at The Daily Banter offers a summary of these selective leaks and announcements.

Now law enforcement insiders are introducing an alternate version of the shooting that, if true, would certainly exonerate Officer Wilson from criminal charges.

Major media outlets like CNN are running with this poorly sourced story advancing an alternative version of the shooting, which Jake Tapper's sources with inside knowledge of the investigation say matches the story Officer Wilson related to his colleagues.

Credit for introducing this story into the media goes to Breitbart alumna Dana Loesch. Dana lives in the St. Louis area and has a radio show, and she went on-air with a call from a woman who claimed to be the friend of Officer Wilson's current girlfriend. This woman related a version of the shooting that ran completely counter to the established eyewitness accounts, and painted Michael Brown as a crazed assailant whose relentless charge toward Wilson forced the officer to repeatedly shoot in fear for his own safety.

Even though this story is related by a woman who claims to be a friend of the shooter's "significant other," and is therefore second-hand hearsay and not a witness account, CNN is treating it as newsworthy and employing the classic frame of "Duelling Narratives," and broadcasting it nationally by pretending that Jake's sources give them the corroboration they need. Dear CNN: eyewitness accounts and an anonymous tip from someone not at the scene are not equally credible. If in fact Officer Wilson is telling this story to multiple people, he's still the only eyewitness who has related this tale.

And on Monday, August 18th, a crime reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Christine Byers, released, via Twitter, a potentially significant story based on her inside sources within law enforcement. But strangely, even as multiple right-wing websites have published BOMBSHELL! BREAKING! stories sourced only on her single tweet, her own newspaper has not mentioned a single word about their scoop.

Here's the tweet:

More than a dozen witnesses! That's incredibly important. That represents a significant revision of the current understanding of the shooting, and fundamentally contradicts the 4 or so eyewitness accounts currently in the news. 

This should be a top story on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website and a front-pager in their next print edition. But it's not. Why is that?

I started reaching out to various listed editors and staff at the Post-Dispatch almost immediately, and left messages with several people. 

Meanwhile, my email to Byers received an out-of-office reply indicating that she is on maternity leave until September. I reached out to the person she named as her alternate, and was referred to the paper's PR manager.

As I was still in the process of drafting this post, and still having no direct response from the Post-Dispatch, Christine Byers published a new tweet:

There it is.

As I suspected as soon as I read it, the implications of her tweet are not borne out by verifiable facts. My speculation: these dozen or so "witnesses" she was tipped off about by her police source are NOT EYEWITNESSES to the shooting. Rather, they are a dozen or more people who have all heard Darren Wilson's version of the events, and all are therefore hearsay witnesses, all leading back to Wilson as the sole source.

Meanwhile, her uncorroborated, unverified claim is posted on multiple websites as fact, and Jake Tapper himself RTed her explosive claim into the Internet, presumably without performing any of the elementary fact-checking I have performed for this blog post.

I'm expecting there to be consequences to Byers if and when she returns from leave. While on leave from her paper, but under her Twitter account, given validity by her identification as a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, she launched unsubstantiated information from police sources into the media. This story is all over the web now, citing her as a source, and potential jurors for a possible Darren Wilson trial now believe that there are a dozen witnesses who support Wilson's story.

I've attempted to contact Jake Tapper to find out if, by any chance, Byers was a source for any of his Ferguson reporting, and how this impacts what CNN has reported. Will update when/if I receive an official statement from the Post-Dispatch or Mr. Tapper. Stay tuned.

UPDATE:

I received the following statement from the Post-Dispatch:

Christine Byers is a police reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch who has been on FMLA leave since March. She is not involved in the Ferguson coverage while she is on leave. Her tweets are personal.

She has tweeted today in regards to her tweet Monday: "On FMLA from paper. Earlier tweets did not meet standards for publication."

Gilbert Bailon
Editor, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

APPENDIX:

Media Reports Based Solely on Christine Byer's Tweet

New York Post‘A dozen witnesses’ say Ferguson teen attacked cop before shooting, 8/19/14

The Daily CallerPreliminary Report: Over A Dozen Witnesses Back Darren Wilson’s Story, 8/19/14

NOTE: Daily Caller updated story with 2nd tweet, accompanying video unchanged

The Blaze: Report: More Than a Dozen Witnesses Have Corroborated Officer Darren Wilson’s Version of Ferguson Shooting, 8/18/14

AL.comReporter says more than a dozen witnesses to Brown shooting back up police officer's version of events, 8/18/14

The Gateway PunditBOMBSHELL!… Reporter: A Dozen Witnesses Confirm #Ferguson Cop’s Version of Brown Shooting, 8/18/14

Tea Party News NetworkNew Evidence Supports Darren Wilson’s Account That He was Attacked by Michael Brown, 8/19/14

Rightwing News: BLOCKBUSTER REPORT: A Dozen Witnesses Have Corroborated Officer Darren Wilson's Version of Ferguson Shooting, 8/19/14



Like what you read? Chip in, keep us going.


When is a reporter not a reporter? Observations on the Ferguson story

From Enmity to Empathy: Hate, Hugs, and Hope in Ferguson

0