The Fort Worth, Texas Police Department took umbrage late Monday with Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s coverage of its response to George Floyd protests. According to the police department, Carlson said “dozens” of protesters, looters, rioters, and vandals “were arrested” May 31st in the wake of Floyd’s death. Police called out Carlson but misquoted his misreading of their poorly worded original press release—all while failing to hold NPR to the same standard.
Let’s walk through the background here.
Carlson said Fort Worth Chief Ed Kraus “dropped all charges against the rioters” — that’s as per the police department’s close, but not word-for-word accurate, retelling of what Carlson said. The actual Tucker Carlson transcript reads as follows:
What you can not be punished for, however, is looting and burning — at least not if you’re ‘Black Lives Matter.’
[ . . . ]
On May 31, a crowd of Black Lives Matter demonstrators blocked a bridge in downtown Ft. Worth. When police arrived to disperse them, they threw rocks and bottles of bleach. Three police officers were injured. The mob went on to loot and vandalize businesses. Dozens of rioters were arrested for this. Ten days later, the city’s police chief, Ed Kraus, announced that he was dropping all charges against them. Kraus issued a statement suggesting that the real criminals in the riot were not the rioters, but his own police officers, whom he suggested would be reined in and perhaps punished. Quote, “This is just one step on a long journey,” Kraus wrote, sounding more like a therapist than a cop.
The comments were part of a broader Carlson complaint about authorities in multiple cities being too soft on rioters and looters.
Despite the police version of Carlson’s quote (“dropped all charges against the rioters”) being slightly off from Carlson’s actual words (“dropping all charges against them”), Fort Worth police decided to mince words and bash Carlson.
“This information is absolutely inaccurate and is not consistent with the actual facts,” the police said in a widely distributed press release in direct response to Carlson’s broadcast. “The only charges dropped were minor misdemeanors which did not involve property or personal crimes.”
The department also bashed Carlson for arguing that Chief Kraus had suggested officers, not protesters, were the real criminals. The department responded that Carlson’s argument was “a gross mischaracterization of any statement released by Chief Kraus or the department.”
“Recklessly releasing such inaccurate, unverified information does nothing for the good of the public and simply creates an environment of confusion and bitterness during a time in which so many are wanting their voices hear,” the police department said. It also committed itself to the “transparent” release of information.
— Fort Worth Police (@fortworthpd) June 16, 2020
The underlying issue is traceable to a previous press release form the police chief which announced his decision to drop certain charges against certain protesters.
“I am dropping all charges for rioting that have resulted from the protests in Fort Worth, and each individual that was arrested for that violation will be notified by letter that their charges have been dropped,” Kraus said in that earlier statement.
Anyone who protested and was arrested for vandalism, criminal mischief, theft, etc. do not fall under this. Separate cases/charges.
This is solely for the charge of rioting. https://t.co/6YJvSv8jTK
— Fort Worth Police (@fortworthpd) June 9, 2020
Here is where a laser-sharp focus on words becomes necessary. Kraus said he was “dropping all charges for rioting” and referenced people “arrested for that violation.” Carlson said the police were “dropping all charges against them” (with reference to the rioters). Dropping all charges for rioting is technically not the same as dropping all charges against rioters.
Freshmen college students are taught that successful communication occurs when messages are properly sent and properly received. Unraveling a communications breakdown requires looking at both sides of a communications session or, in this case, a communications incident. Here, the police department’s original statement could have been more precisely worded.
Others agree. “Kinda confusing statement though given previous statement by Fort Worth PD,” CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy tweeted.
The original press release’s wording is probably why NPR also made what arguably is the same mistake. “Police in Fort Worth, Texas, are dropping criminal charges against dozens of people who were arrested and accused of rioting during protests against racism and police brutality,” said an opening line in an NPR report on the same topic. Though the NPR report did not say “all” charges were dropped, it also did not clearly state that some charges would remain in place against some individuals. NPR’s language still gave the impression that all charges were dropped, which is what police called out Carlson for saying. The police didn’t call out NPR.
[Image via screen capture from YouTube/Fox News Channel]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]