By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
On Sunday morning, the United Kingdom’s conservative newspaper, Daily Mail, posted a story about Black Lives Matter protests under the headline: “Black Lives Matter protesters screamed in the face of white elderly outdoor diners during protests in Pittsburgh on Saturday, disturbing new video shows.”
However, photojournalist Ed Thompson was on assignment for the Pittsburgh Current says the Mail’s account of the incident isn’t at all a fair representation.
As a media company, The Daily Mail is often recognized as one of the most unreliable news sources. So much so in fact, that in 2017, Wikipedia banned the paper as a source due to its consistent unreliability, saying it “mastered the art of running stories that aren’t true.”
The Mail’s account of events focused on a video posted on Facebook, tweets from “outraged” witnesses. The article painted the protesters in Pittsburgh and other places around the country as the aggressors in these instances. In particular, the paper pointed to the case of an “elderly diner,” pictured below in the green shirt.
But Thompson says that’s not the case. “The older lady was the aggressor,” Thompson said. “She called [protesters] out and called them names. Here is Thompson’s tweet from the protest.
Images from the 1st protest in Pittsburgh today. The protest; which is called "Civil Saturday" remained civil even with the various "agitators" that tried to interfere was a crowd of approximately 500 people. Check out the @PghCurrent for a recap and photo gallery. @PghProtests pic.twitter.com/EXElTPYPzB
— Ed Thompson (@ThompsonFoto12) September 6, 2020
When there are confrontations at events like this, more often than not, protesters are the ones blamed. The Daily Mail didn’t report on the aggressive actions of white “bystanders.”
At the same march this past Saturday, Thompson photographed a white man who was taken away by police for turning violent against a protester with an attempt at a Karate Kid Crane Kick. We have reached out to Pittsburgh Police to see if any charges were filed or if an investigation was ongoing in this incident. Update: A Pittsburgh Police spokesperson says the incident is being investigated but no arrests have been made.
(Current Photo by Ed Thompson)
While the Mail may have been first in reporting a version of events downtown, it was not the last. Locally, WTAE has picked it up as has Fox News and the New York Post.
But all of the reports have one very glaring similarity — not one of these news agencies had a reporter on the scene.
All reported that Pittsburgh Police were investigating the matter, however, no one attempted to get the side of a protester or anyone else for that matter.
In contrast, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also covered the story, but unlike the other publications sought out and talked to protesters who were at the scene, which is what you’re supposed to do in these situations.
For our part, Thompson was there on assignment. He’s a seasoned photojournalist and I trust his account of what happened. If Thompson weren’t there, I wouldn’t be writing anything today because I didn’t have a representative there to view what happened. And that’s a huge problem. Today, more and more journalists are relying on social media to do their jobs for them. I’m not saying you can’t write about something if you weren’t there, but then you must do extra due diligence and interview as many witnesses to the event as possible.
There are journalists in this city, some well-known, that base the majority of their reporting on other people’s social media with, at times, little to no independent collaboration. Or, they “quote” other news sources who were there or who did the actual legwork to get a story. If I don’t have solid information and verification on a story, I don’t write it, just to say that I have a major story, too.
The most important thing that a reporter can do is see and report.
It shouldn’t be about clickbait headlines and that’s what the Daily Mail did here. And now other media, especially right-wing news outlets, will take this report and use it to fit the narrative and agenda that they are pushing. That’s how fake news is born. If other apparently “legitimate” news companies run a piece too, then it must be true.
Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have written anything about this today because a lot of times, the worst thing you can do is spread stuff like this and lend it legitimacy. However, we saw facts on Saturday that disputed the narrative pushed by the Daily Mail; and if we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs.