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Perceptions of Reality-- And a Failure to Indict

By       Message Walter Brasch     Permalink
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From flickr.com/photos/35702931@N04/14968715736/: The West Wednesday-Ferguson Protest
The West Wednesday-Ferguson Protest
(Image by SocialJusticeSeeker812)
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by Walter Brasch

She quietly walked into the classroom and stood there, just inside the door, against a wall.

The professor, his back to her, continued his lecture, unaware of her presence until his students' eyes began focusing upon her rather than him.

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"Yes?" he asked, turning to her. Just "Yes." Nothing more.

"You shouldn't have done it," she said peacefully. He was confused. So she said it again, this time a little louder, and began yelling.

"Ma'am," he began, but she cut him off. He tried to defuse the situation, but couldn't reason with her. She pulled a gun from her purse, shot him, and then quickly left. He slumped to his lectern, but quickly recovered.

It took less than a minute.

The scene was yet another exercise in the professor's newswriting class, this one unannounced but highly planned. His assignment was for the students to quickly write down everything they could about the incident. What happened. What was said. What she looked like. What she was wearing. Just the facts. Nothing more.

Everyone got some of the information right, but no one got all the facts, even the ones they were absolutely positively sure they saw or heard correctly. And, most interestingly, the "gun" the visitor used and which the students either couldn't identify or misidentified was in reality a . . . banana; a painted black banana, but a banana nevertheless. The actual gunshot was on tape on a hidden recorder activated by the professor.

It was a lesson in observation and truth.

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Witnesses often get the facts wrong, unable to distinguish events happening on top of each other. Sometimes they even want to "help" the reporter and say what they think the reporter wants to hear.

Reporters are society's witnesses who record history by interviewing other witnesses, and they all make mistakes, not because they want to, but because everyone's life experiences and perceptions fog reality. Put 10 reporters into a PTA meeting or court trial, and there will be 10 different stories.

Of the infinite number of facts and observations that occur, reporters must select a few. Which few they select, which thousands they deliberately don't select--and, more important--which parts they don't even know exist--all make up news, usually written under deadline pressure. Thus, it isn't unusual for readers to wonder how reporters could have been in the same meeting as they were since the published stories didn't seem to reflect the reality of that meeting.

It's no different with witnesses to a shooting on a public street.

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http://www.walterbrasch.com

Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor of journalism emeritus. His current books are Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution , America's Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government's Violation of (more...)
 

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