Violence at the State Fair: fear, the media, and MC Hammer
Is TMJ4’s coverage of the State Fair attacks irresponsible?
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Violence broke out at the Wisconsin State Fair last night, effectively pooping on the party of thousands of “OMG! I ate some deep-fried butter and it was sooooo gross!” stories statewide. Here’s what happened, as summed up by the Journal Sentinel:
Police from three jurisdictions - West Allis, Milwaukee and Wisconsin State Fair police - are spending Friday morning piecing together a series of incidents late Thursday night at the Wisconsin State Fair in which large groups of youths rampaged through the midway and outside the grounds after closing.
Officials could not say what started what witnesses said was a series of racially charged incidents that apparently began as early as 7 p.m. in the midway. The midway is located just east of the Pettit National Ice Center and adjacent to the Hank Aaron Bike Trail.
But of all the local media outlets, TMJ4 had the most interesting—and rash—approach to the story: printing nothing but testimonies from Newsradio 620 WTMJ callers. Here’s one of the more levelheaded:
“It was 100% racial,” claimed Eric, an Iraq war veteran from St. Francis who says young people beat on his car.
“I had a black couple on my right side, and these black kids were running in between all the cars, and they were pounding on my doors and trying to open up doors on my car, and they didn't do one thing to this black couple that was in this car next to us. They just kept walking right past their car. They were looking in everybody's windshield as they were running by, seeing who was white and who was black. Guarantee it.”
Even more rash? Blaming MC Hammer—yes, MC Hammer—for the attacks. In a statement now redacted from the TMJ4 story, a witness to last night’s melee offered this intriguing hypothesis:
“I think the headliner [MC Hammer] they had last night is what drew the type of crowd they had last night. I’ve never been at the fair where they had so many African-American people. There’s never usually that many of them, at that park, for whatever reason that I can figure.”
That section was removed earlier this morning, and later replaced with this:
Woman: Teenagers in mob didn't attend rap concert
One woman who asked not to be identified tells us that contrary to some belief, the young people involved in the mob did not go to the rap concert that night.
“The mob of black teenagers involved in the beatings and damage outside of State Fair last night were not there for the MC Hammer concert,” said the woman.
“I attended that concert with three of my friends last night and the crowd was mostly white and adult (as are my friends and I). Any kids there seemed to be with parents.”
Beyond scoffing at the idea that teenagers would show up to an MC Hammer show—hell, his appearance on the first season of The Surreal Life is practically before their time—I’m concerned about TMJ4’s approach to this story. The online piece is made up of almost nothing but statements from eyewitnesses, transcribed from telephone calls, less than 12 hours after the incident. It’s clear that most of the callers are still shook up, angry, and hot-tempered. Oh, and almost every one goes out of his or her way to mention the word “black.” Sugarcoating stories with PC dust is never the way to go, but printing near-hysterical comments from folks still reeling from an attack seems unwise. And if you’re going to remove certain comments and sections throughout the day, why print them in the first place?
Look, there’s nothing funny about what happened last night. A lot of people got hurt, and a lot of people are now scared. That’s understandable. But printing the unedited thoughts of hurt, scared people is incredibly irresponsible. As someone who was once involved in a violent attack (I was beaten and mugged in 2005), I can attest to the ugly, confusing thoughts that rattle around in your head immediately afterward. But those thoughts should be for you, and for you only, and need to be properly digested and dealt with. It’s too bad the media never comes calling when cooler heads prevail.