The “Journalists” vs. The Video; Recording the Shooting of Walter Scott

Warning: Graphic Video

In April 2015, South Carolina Police Officer Michael Slager was charged with murder for shooting Walter Scott in the back. In a commentary, Michael Rosenbaum writes of the initial media reports by local television reporters that parroted official reports that the shooting was to stop a threat to the officer's safety.

The NBC affiliate, News2, reported:

The officer deployed his department-issued taser in an effort to detain the driver, which was not effective. An altercation between the officer and the driver took place, leading to a struggle over the officer's taser. During the struggle, the suspect gained control of the taser to use it against the officer. The officer then discharged his service weapon to stop the threat. Even though lifesaving efforts were conducted by officers prior to EMS's arrival and EMS efforts on scene, the suspect was pronounced dead.

However, the incident was captured on an iPhone by eyewitness Feidin Santana – very much NOT a professional journalist. Later, police dashcam video added to the story. Below is the video of the shooting by Santana and the dashcam video from CNN.

Adam Johnson of Alternet writes a similar commentary.

"We now know, by the sheer accident of someone filming the event, this narrative was false. We know Scott never "gained control" of a taser, and we know Scott only received medical attention from police minutes after they planted a weapon on him and handcuffed him as he lay dying. But the media, in an effort to report "both sides," ends up transcribing the deceptive police report verbatim."

Eyewitness video, surveillance cameras, dashcams, and bodycams are giving citizens (and professional journalists) access to information we never had before. Journalism ethics classes will study how professional journalists covered this event, both initially and after the video was discovered. Journalists must assume there is a good chance there is video somewhere of an event.