Rush to judgment: How the media encourages us to eat our young

Part four of a five-part series


We’ve covered a lot of ground in parts one, two, and three of this series, so if you haven’t yet read those, I encourage you to do so. If you’ll recall, in part three we looked at how the effects of stress cause a shift in brain activity, making rational, reasoned thought improbable, if not impossible. 

Let’s now look at how the media portrayed the event we’ve been using as our example.

Not Always So Positive
First off, I want to thank KSTP television for doing such a positive piece on Officers Daniel King and Brian Wanschura. As we all know, not all media coverage of the police is as positive as that KSTP story.

Occasionally, that’s because what we do isn’t positive, but more frequently, it’s because what we do doesn’t look positive. Then, sometimes, it’s because the reporting is done from a position of ignorance of what our jobs and our duties are, and a lack of knowledge of the physiological effects of stress.

I know cops often feel victimized by the media, and that feeling is not without cause. 

Let’s talk briefly about an entirely different case. 

I know an officer who was involved in his third shooting. The media had a field day with that fact. One station made a comment that the official version of the shooting didn’t match with what the witnesses said — casting aspersions of wrongdoing. In fact, all the witnesses’ statements matched the involved officer’s statements, and the officer ended up winning a civil suit against the station for their actions.

As we are all aware, you cannot count on the media to tell the whole story. There is one good reason. There simply isn’t time. 

Even in the video of Officers Daniel King and Brian Wanschura, they started with a 16-plus+ minute taped interview. That taped interview was preceded by another interview of an unknown length. That taped interview was edited down to four minutes and five seconds. 

In that editing, something had to be lost. For example, the story doesn’t include the reason the officers came into contact with the suspect, and that shots were fired before the video surveillance started. 

During the news story, the dispatch audio is played over the surveillance video out of sync with the actual events, which could lead to a mismisinterpretationimpression of the actual chain of events.

The story gives us more information, but still doesn’t answer my burning question: “Why did the officer bail out of a moving car and place himself in an exposed vulnerable position?”

Based on the information in the news piece, someone could still come to the conclusion that the officer had “screwed up” and if they had been there, they would have done X, Y, and Z to resolve the situation.

Sometimes the only information we have is from the media and opinions are made on that edited, time- compressed information but we know it’s not the whole story. Without the viewpoints of the officers involved being heard, we end up having to come to a conclusion or opinion, if we choose to form one, from a position of ignorance because we have ”a lack of knowledge” regarding the complete event. 

When you form an opinion rooted in ignorance you can only make an ignorant conclusion. If you make statements from a position of ignorance, you can only make an ignorant argument.

An Altogether Different Example
I was motivated to write this series because of another incident that occurred recently. In it, two officers responded to check on a man who was potentially suicidal. 

As one officer finished typing something into his computer in his squad, the other went toward the apartment building. The officer in the car heard two shots, looked up, and saw his partner dead on the ground, with the suspect coming toward him and aiming a gun. 

In fear of his life, he put the car in reverse and drove out of the kill zone.

In the media — and I am sure by some fellow officers — he has been accused of “abandoning” his partner and of being a “coward.” He has since resigned his position — in part, I’m sure, because of the criticism leveled by those who have little or no knowledge of critical incidents.

The media aired the inflammatory statements from the initial suspect's’ attorney, but never bothered to interview anyone (in rebuttal) who knows about proper police tactics. 

The officer was trained that if you are in your squad and a deadly force threat occurs, you either drive through it, around it, or away from it, because getting out of the car to engage it takes too much time and the vehicle is mostly concealment, not cover.

How do I know? I trained both officers.

So we have a double tragedy. An officer, husband, and father is killed in the line of duty. Another officer sees his partner and friend shot down, uses proper tactics to escape the deadly threat, and survives. 

He lives with the memory of that night forever. Not only that, he’s judged in the spotlight of the media. His judges — who have the luxury of making their judgment well after the incident — calmly, rationally, and already knowing the tragic outcome, are afforded the privilege of making the perfect decision.

If you asked the officer — knowing in advance what was going to happen to his friend and partner — if he would do anything different his answer would be yes (probably up to and including taking the shotgun slugs himself). 

But, life doesn’t allow do-overs and hindsight is 20/20. 

In part five, we will look at the unedited interview of Officers Daniel King and Brian Wanschura. We will hear from those officers their perceptions of the incident and why they did what they did. We will finally learn why the officer stepped out of a moving vehicle, causing him to fall down in an exposed and vulnerable position. 

Hopefully, we will learn to not rush to judgment without knowing the whole story, taking into account the understanding of the limits of human physical and mental capabilities under stress.

About the author

In February 2014, Duane Wolfe retired from his career as a Minnesota Peace Officer after more than 25 years of service (beginning in 1988). During his career he served as patrolman, sergeant, S.R.T., Use of Force and Firearms Instructor, and is currently employed by the Parkers Prairie Police Department. He is also a full time instructor in the Law Enforcement Program at Alexandria Technical College, Alexandria, Minnesota. Duane has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Bemidji State University, and a Masters Degree in Education from Southwest State University. Duance has previously published articles on Calibre Press and IALEFI and served on the Advisory Board for Lt. Col. Dave Grossmans book, On Combat. Contact Duane Wolfe

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