When an opinion makes the news

I don’t think it happens very often that opinion writers break the news. They tend to opine on the fact previously presented – or at least that’s my general impression. But Tuesday, Virginian-Pilot columnist Michelle Washington broke a story – and it has reverberated around the country, courtesy of a link from Drudge Report.

A number of the commenters on the story seemed to confuse op-eds and reports, calling for Washington’s story to be on the front page of the newspaper. Um, no. There has always been a line between the news side and the editorial side of the newspaper, as the editors (Finley, Luzzatto) of the respective pages pointed out a couple of years ago. Obviously, it’s time to dust off those columns and put them out there again, because while newspapers observe this very bright line, it seems most of the rest of the media does not.

As to why the story was not reported as news, we have  this from Denis Finley. The excuse may sound lame, but it is what it is: a case of simple assault. I happened to have caught both the 5:30pm and 6pm newscast of WAVY Wednesday. The smoking gun – that a box was checked on the police report that indicated it was a hate crime – turns out to have been a computer glitch. The TV reporter said that something was written in the box next to it, causing the computer to check the box.

As far as the attitude of the police is concerned – they have now issued a statement on the incident. (The City of Norfolk posted the statement to its Facebook page. Sometimes, you can take social media too far. Not everyone has – or wants – a Facebook account.) They deny the officer made the statements attributed to him. One was particularly galling: telling a victim to “shut up.”

So what, really, do we have? We have a group of black thugs attacking a white couple. And it is this element of race that is really at the center of the firestorm.

If the races of the perpetrators and victims had been the same – both white or both black – we would be focusing on the real problem: thugs attacking an innocent couple.Would that have made the news?

But it is, instead, far easier to focus on the race here. Because race, above all, remains the thing that continues to divide us. Statistics – like these (pg 13) that show that most murder perpetrators and victims are of the same race – be damned. Almost since the beginning of our country, the media has whipped up fear in whites of blacks.

Until and unless this country deals with the issue of race, we can forget about doing something about the crime problem.


I wrote the above last night, with plans to publish it this morning, but forgot to set the auto-post. The newspaper today has a more expanded explanation from Finley, as well as this editorial, which, ironically, comes to a similar conclusion as I did: we have work to do on the issue of race.

12 thoughts on “When an opinion makes the news

  1. The issue of race is irrelevant. If you look at how the Pilot reporters crimes, when something happens, even a car accident with a fatality, it is almost immediately put up on the website at the top under “Latest News.” There will typically be a 10-15 line story briefly giving the facts and who was involved. That didn’t happen in this case, which is extremely suspect. Doesn’t matter if the Police mis-coded it, the Pilot knew about it because it was there people involved. They didn’t have to report black on white, white on black, or whatever. All that needed to be said was something along the lines of, “A mob of people attacked a couple in their car leaving an event at the Attucks Theater at the corner of Church and Brambleton, a police investigation is under way.” That would have at least informed the community of what was going on.

    The real story here is why the police refused to talk to witnesses or do any kind of follow up. Is this standard procedure? Can you really get beaten by a group of people and have the police tell you they can’t or won’t do anything about it? Sure, maybe some people are angry because of some perceived racial bias, but to use that as am excuse to not cover it is just crazy. The real issue is that this was a serious public safety event at a major intersection that was never reported and then never investigated because the police claimed that’s just what happens near the projects.

    1. Actually, Max, the issue of race is relevant. I wish it weren’t. But if you read through the comments, you’ll see it. If you were on the receiving end of the emails – and having written about race and received those emails – you’d see it.

      Ignoring the issue of race is ignoring the elephant in the room. And look at how well that has worked out for us.

      1. Ok, the issue of race is relevant to the aftermath of the Pilot not immediately covering it because people are inserting race into the situation. I agree with the Norfolk Police that regardless of race, if you step out to confront someone who threw a rock at you, you will probably get into a fight with them.

        The problem I have is that race is being used as a cover for what is clearly an improper relationship between the Virginian-Pilot and the Police Department. This is not the first time this kind of thing has happened and it certainly won’t be the last. The Pilot routinely accepts police reports and statements from Commonwealth’s Atty’s as factual evidence and then re-prints it verbatim while using it as the sole basis to determine whether a story is newsworthy and/or uses it as evidence enough to write a story without attempting to get the views of the opposite side.

        If we let race become the issue we are doing exactly what the Police and Pilot want; not focusing on how and why there wasn’t a serious investigation as to the Norfolk Police Department’s conduct in this case and the extent to which the Pilot and Police Department conspire to cover up stories that are not advantageous for either entity. It looks just as bad for the Pilot to re-print inaccurate investigation because of their own lack of fact checking as it is for a police department to admit they didn’t do an investigation in the first place. I say “a” police department because the situation I just described happens in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake routinely as well.

  2. It was not a racial event in the eyes of the public until a Trayvon comment was discovered on a twitter feed. The democrats have and will use whatever means neccesary to win this fall and the media will be complicit. If the paper was politically neutral and journalism was non partisan and the motives of the editiorial board were unmoved to make decisions on political lines then this article would have made the news like other articles.. unless the couple did not want to be made a mark.

    What really is suspect was the timing af the article.. right after elections. Coincidence?

    1. I’m calling BS on this. Both parties engage in using race as a tool. And you are completely missing the point that it was the news side of the paper that didn’t publish it. The editorial side, which is all opnion and includes opinions from both sides, something you would know if you actually read the newspaper instead of simply relying on what is posted online. Today’s paper is typical: a local op-ed and two national op-eds, one from George Will. Surely you’re not putting Will in the Democratic column!

      1. Ditto both parties use race for leverage. We see it all the time. And I do read the paper if I see it at a lunch counter next to wareings gym. The editorial bias is typically news they decide is news, not the news they feel their readers will want to read.

  3. Vivian, you say that race isn’t the real issue, but we need to work on race? Finley says he wouldn’t have reported on this story if the races were reversed, so all the conversations in the world don’t change the fact that the Pilot thinks that 100 people attacking 2 isn’t news.

    1. Race is NOT the issue because it is not race that makes these people barbarians. Race IS the issue because people THINK that is what makes these people barbarians.

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