PR Propaganda and Persuasion Appeals
The controversial police shooting of an unarmed 18 year old in Ferguson Missouri has sparked days of protests and extensive news coverage almost around the clock for the past week. In cases like this, news media, at the behest of authorities, or even without prompting and done subconsciously, have painted a negative picture of African American victims to justify their deaths.
A recent report by the Huffington Post showed a list of headlines from articles comparing the “black” victims of homicides with the “white” suspects of homicides. In all of the cases, the suspects are depicted with emotional stereotypes like “brilliant” or “misfit”. The imagery is used to describe the apparent perpetrators of crime as misguided or misunderstood to evoke sympathy or empathy.
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal used the headline “Ala. Suspect brilliant, but social misfit”
Staten Island Advance – Son in Staten Island murders was brilliant, athletic – but his demons were the death of his parents.
Fox News headline – Oregon school shooting suspect fascinated with guns but was a devoted Mormon, his friends say
Whittier Daily News – Santa Barbara Shooting: Suspect was ‘soft-spoken, polite, a gentleman’, ex-principal says
By contrast, the victims of crimes were also victimized by the smear campaign of propaganda that not only used emotional stereotypes to suggest and insinuate guilt and therefore less sympathy, but also they were victims of glittering generalities. These nebulous words evoke a sense of guilt and infer that the victim somehow deserved death for his action.
NBC News headline – Trayvon Martin was suspended three times from school
AL.com – Montgomery’s latest homicide victim had a history of narcotics abuse, tangles with the law
Los Angeles Times – Deputy killed Marine out of fear for children’s safety, officials say
Omaha World-Herald – Shooting victim had many run-ins with the law
All these titles are used to persuade the reader to sympathize and empathize with the killer or perpetrator of a crime, also referred to as a suspect, when in every case they were later found to be responsible for the crime. The victim of a homicide when “black”, was portrayed as criminal in unrelated crimes to the actual murder which took their life. This obscuring and mismatching of facts is also known as card-stacking or subversive rhetoric, which is “ a device of discrediting a person’s motivation in order to discredit an idea (Newsom, 2012)” or “selecting facts that represent one point of view, while obscuring other facts. The result is distortion and misrepresentation (Newsom, 2012)”. The same technique is being used in the case of Mike Brown, since the release of a videotaped theft of cigars at a convenience store just minutes before a police shot and killed him. This information came in conjunction with the release of the officer’s name (Darren Wilson), after its delay of 6 days. Clouding the release of the name with unrelated, emotional facts of the theft is a technique used to distract opinion away from the crime of murder and present a new topic of discussion for the media who will shape unformed opinions.
It must be noted that Wilson, the officer who stopped and eventually killed Brown within three minutes, didn’t respond to the theft, but instead confronted him for walking in the street. Not only was the theft unrelated, but it should be noted that a police officer’s duty is to apprehend a suspect of crime, not pass a judgment of death and perform an execution in the street. It should also be made clear that the visual of the theft is not a picture of the entire story. There is no audio, so we don’t know what the conversation was. I can imagine that the dispute was over the fact that Brown wasn’t old enough to purchase tobacco products and was refused service because it’s against the law to sell to minors. Releasing the tape without context while withholding how many times and where he was shot by the officer are textbook public relations propaganda and persuasion techniques.
Nick Wing, When The Media Treats White Suspects And Killers Better Than Black Victims, Huffington Post, August 14, 2014, ret. August 16, 2014 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/14/media-black-victims_n_5673291.html?utm_hp_ref=politics&ir=Politics
Newsom, Turk, Kruckenberg, This is PR – The Realities of Public Relations, 11th Ed., Wadsworth Cengage, 2012