Watchdog Blog

Herb Strentz: Des Moines Fair Coverage, Part 2

Posted at 11:19 am, August 27th, 2010
Herb Strentz Mug

Cleaning up in the wake of the 2010 Iowa State Fair will be daunting this year. In addition to the mess left by nearly 1 million visitors and thousands of farm animals, we have a continuing saga of news coverage that told of possible racial assaults and then, in Saturday Night Live fashion, appears to be telling us, “Never mind!”

Press coverage and public public controversy were driven by several black on white assaults in or near Iowa’s state fairgrounds and a soon open-to-question report that a gang of 30 to 40 black youths roamed the fair on its closing day, Sunday, Aug. 22, declaring “It’s beat whitey night.”

That report was headline news, of course, and continues to fuel press-related issues as well as community concerns. The press-related issues include source credibility, racial identification of people in the news, and the anonymity of people who post comments on newspaper and TV station websites. All help fuel criticism of the press for being the mouthpiece of the liberal elite or the city hall bureaucrat — take your pick.

A source of the “Beat whitey” account was Sgt. Dave Murillo of the Des Moines police department. He is better known than most cops are in the communities they serve because of his leadership in the police union and for an occasional inflammatory column he used to contribute to an alternative weekly in town, among other things.

Murillo wasn’t at the Fair during the incidents. He was, however, working security at Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, where some people were treated for injuries.

The “Beat whitey” revelation apparently surfaced at Mercy from conversations with victims and their companions and from Murillo checking with others in law enforcement and state fair people. His “intelligence report” made headline news in the Des Moines Register and local television. Murillo says he stands by that report.

But police spokespersons say they cannot nail down the “Beat whitey” account to the extent of, say, having the evidence needed to warrant charging someone with a hate crime and convicting him.

So on Wednesday, KCCI-TV in Des Moines reported “Des Moines police said … they do not believe fights near the state fairgrounds were racially motivated or connected.” A Register headline said, “Views shift on fights at fair, D.M. police now say they can’t confirm race friction was a factor.”

Much of the public begs to differ, judging from online posts at the paper and TV stations — given that 11 suspects arrested in Fair-related assaults are black and almost all the victims, including two policemen, are white. Because most people are not looking for rock-solid evidence of hate crimes, the predominant races of suspects and victims are enough to convince them the press was right the first time around — perhaps even without the impetus of “It’s beat whitey night.”

The racial IDs of victims and suspects generally had to be pieced together if one relied on Register news stories because the paper only uses such labels when deemed newsworthy or relevant — and that wasn’t the case in coverage of almost all of the fair-related assaults. A person at the Register noted that if the paper errs, it errs on the side of not using racial identifiers.

Anonymous contributors to news media websites have no such reluctance. A survey of the websites provides the predictable racial invective, peppered with notices that one post or another was removed for violating the site’s rules on personal attacks, bigotry, etc. A few posts do provide some thoughtful analysis and expressions of concern. For example, one anonymous poster advised forgetting about why a person was assaulted, and just punish the person who did so. But more postings castigate the Register and TV stations for echoing either the elite — by excusing or ignoring the behavior of “black thugs” — or the establishment — for deciding that what is needed is a committee to investigate everything.

Having reported the “Beat whitey” angle — which still has anecdotal support — the Iowa news media are faulted for moving away from it. Anonymous postings will tell you that people concerned about tidying up Iowa’s image are influencing the press.

As noted earlier on this site, one good starting point in addressing race-related issues is a Bob Herbert New York Times column. Herbert focused on the self-destructive nature of some young black men, but his thoughts move well beyond the black neighborhood.

Meantime, it does remain troubling that the Register is so conscious about racial identifiers in its news columns and so accommodating of racial invective in online anonymous posts. In the community and in the news media, the clean-up after the state fair has only just begun.

2 Responses to “Des Moines Fair Coverage, Part 2”

  1. Darlene says:

    Society created the angry black male and society does nothing to stop the downward spiral. Instead, society hides it’s head in the sand, Ostrich style, and does nothing to change the plight of those raised in a ghetto. To gloss it over by not mentioning race is just another way of ignoring the problem and refusing to take action. It will only get worse.

  2. gene willis says:

    society caused this?caused what?how did society cause youg blacks from this know wheres generation this problem?are you saying that the black generation from this time period lived back in the befor time?that these black youths were victims from the 1960s?are you stating these people lived back then and thats the reason society is to blame?can you confirm that these young people grew up from 1952 through 1968 and was involved in white hate from my generation?if you can confirm this then yes,blame society!because liberals and progressives think like you.

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