Ethics Justice The Media

A History of Lying


The Associated Press reported yesterday that the flight restrictions placed over the town of Ferguson, Missouri during protests in August was not a response to gunfire as authorities originally claimed.

According to audio recordings obtained by the Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act, the restrictions were put in place to prevent the media from covering the protests from the air.

On Aug. 12, the morning after the Federal Aviation Administration imposed the first flight restriction, FAA air traffic managers struggled to redefine the flight ban to let commercial flights operate at nearby Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and police helicopters fly through the area — but ban others.

“They finally admitted it really was to keep the media out,” said one FAA manager about the St. Louis County Police in a series of recorded telephone conversations obtained by The Associated Press.

This alone doesn’t quite convey the cynical and manipulative environment in which these restrictions were placed.

Authorities claimed that restrictions were put in place because of gunfire but, as the Associated Press points out, the police department confirmed that none of their helicopters were damaged and they made no official police report of gunfire aimed at their helicopters.

And that also doesn’t adequately convey how shady the situation was and is.

According to an FAA manager, the restrictions were written in such a way that the media was kept out of the area without literally forcing them out.

The less-restrictive change practically served the authorities’ intended goal, an FAA official said: “A lot of the time the (lesser restriction) just keeps the press out, anyways. They don’t understand the difference.” [...]

KMOV-TV News Director Brian Thouvenot told the AP that his station was prepared at first to legally challenge the flight restrictions, but was later advised that its pilot could fly over the area as long as the helicopter stayed above 3,000 feet. That kept the helicopter and its mounted camera outside the restricted zone, although filming from such a distance, he said, was “less than ideal.”

There’s so much to take away from the situation it’s difficult to unpack it all.

My first thought was that it’s incredibly irresponsible and dangerous to spread a rumor (at best) or lie (at worst) that protesters opened fire on police helicopters. That not only escalates tension on the ground among police officers who may not be aware that the reports are wrong, it also has the effect of eroding public support for protesters.

To use that lie to justify restrictions that have the intended effect of keeping the press away from the event is emblematic of what the world has come to expect from authorities in the Ferguson and greater St. Louis area.

As time passes by, there are even fewer reasons to trust anything said or released by the Ferguson police department and it’s hard to imagine how anyone could have faith in the department or even the grand jury proceedings that will determine if Office Darren Wilson is indicted for killing Michael Brown.

(photo via NYTimes)