Perfectly lousy journalism
Nothing like the award-winning Oregonian (year after year, voted the best daily newspaper in Portland) to get the blood boiling on Easter.
Today we got an above-the-fold, front page testament to what a wonderful cop and a wonderful guy is Jason Sery, the Portland police officer who shot and killed the unarmed James Jahar Perez two weeks ago. The story (not on line at the moment, but I'll link to it if it reappears tomorrow) runs on for 58 column-inches. Sery got a commendation once when he served on the force in Billings, Montana. His friends and family say he's a saint:
[A] gentle and patient family man. A spiritual person, dedicated to Christian teachings on morality and compassion. A tireless and inventive cop who is a natural at working with the public.He's gotten a dozen commendations in Portland for his work with neighborhood groups. He doesn't cuss.
How lovely, and how irrelevant. Good people do stupid things sometimes, and when other people die as a result of them, the good people have to be held accountable. I doubt that anyone would ever charge, much less try to prove, that Sery intentionally murdered Perez. The real question is whether he had reasonable cause to kill him, given the facts that Perez was unarmed and that the fatal shots rang out in 24 seconds after the stop was radioed in to the police station. Sery's supposedly model background adds literally nothing to answering that question. Reasonableness is an objective, not a subjective, factual question. If the officer panicked and killed the man without adequate cause, he's committed a homicide that ought to get him thrown off the force, if not criminally prosecuted.
That is so obvious. Why is everyone afraid to say it, and stay focused on it?
The Oregonian's unbalanced report was particularly disturbing in light of the other front-page, above-the-fold story it ran, on Saturday, reminding us yet again that the dead man had a high level of cocaine in his bloodstream when he was killed. The Saturday story, which covered around 30 column-inches, marvelled at how high the levels were, and at how none of the chemical byproducts of cocaine ingestion were present. All of which can only suggest, according to the paper, that the man swallowed a bunch of bags of coke just before he was shot.
Even if he did, so what? If he wasn't armed, he didn't deserve to die. And all the obfuscation in the world isn't going to change that truth in this case.
In a ham-handed attempt at balance, I suppose, The O also ran a very curious pictorial feature on the front page of its Sunday "Living Today" section in which five African-American Portlanders were very briefly interviewed for their views on the meaning of the latest police shooting. The front-page blurb on this piece promises that it will tell us "what it means to be black in Portland." How laughable to claim that it does more than scratch the surface of that subject. And how degrading that it was run in the front of the section of the paper that contains society cocktail party photos, Roseanne Barr's latest doings, Dear Abby, and the horoscopes. Look! We have African-Americans in this city! Now, that's living today!
And of course, one of the five interviewees happens to be a police officer, who'd "never second-guess the officers in the Perez shooting."
I can understand why a paper like The Oregonian runs this kind of material. I was a reporter for a Newhouse newspaper myself once, part of the time covering a police beat in Jersey City, N.J. in the middle of the night. I learned there that the press and the cops get friendly with each other -- often too friendly -- because if the cops stop talking to the press, the press can't get the information it needs to sell papers. There's a lot of one-hand-washing-the-other. It's inevitable.
But this weekend, I think the local fishwrap went a little overboard. Intentionally or not, they're aggravating the frustration and anger that's being felt as a too-limited public inquest and a too-secret, too-familiar grand jury proceeding draw near.
Maybe they should send their "architecture critic," Randy Gragg (stay tuned for another rant about this guy), out to do a piece on buildings in North and Northeast Portland that might burn if the anger and frustration explode this summer.