A Tale of Two Headlines

Ferguson mayor James Knowles III, center, celebrates his election victory with his campaign supporters at the Lion's Club in Ferguson, Mo., Tuesday, April 4, 2017. Ferguson, Missouri's top elected official in the tumultuous 32 months since the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown won another three-year term Tuesday. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

Talk of media malpractice and the loss of journalistic integrity is prevalent these days.  Rightly so.  One needn’t look far to find examples of blatant media bias anymore — it’s almost like the gloves are off, and they’re not even trying to feign objectivity anymore.

Yesterday was election day in Missouri – primarily local elections, including mayoral races in the City of St. Louis and in Ferguson.  Three years ago, the outcome of the mayoral race in Ferguson likely wouldn’t have rated as national news.  In fact, it’s questionable the outcome of the  St. Louis mayoral race would rate.  It’s all “flyover country” after all.  Things changed, of course, on August 9, 2014.  And now people who still might struggle to locate St. Louis on a map and certainly have never set foot in the metro area have developed a keen interest in our local politics — at least when they can be spun in a way that fits a desired narrative.

Take, for instance, this headline run by NBC News last night:

Ferguson, Missouri, Declines to Elect First Black Mayor

If you bother to read beyond the headline (which far too few people do), you’ll learn that Mayor James Knowles III was re-elected to his third term.  Knowles, who (as NBC is quick to point out) is white, has held the office since 2011 and was elected as the youngest mayor in the city’s history (31 at the time of his initial election).  Unlike the city’s police chief and city manager, Knowles rode out the unrest following the Michael Brown shooting, presiding with a steady hand.  In this, the first election held since the shooting, he “campaigned on a promise to continue the changes and reforms instituted following a scathing report by the Justice Department.”  Obviously, the residents of Ferguson decided he was deserving of another term.  But rather than leading with that, NBC opted to emphasize the racial angle.

What the NBC article doesn’t add is that Ferguson, with a population of just over 21,000, is about 67% black and 29% white.  The final vote totals show Knowles receiving 2,133 votes, while his opponent, City Council member Ella Jones, received 1,594 votes.  That means 3,727 votes were cast total, which is a turnout just shy of 18%.  That’s higher than other recent elections but still fairly low.  Low enough that one could fairly infer that, had the residents of Ferguson considered having a non-black mayor as a source of the problems they’ve endured in recent years, they’d have turned out in higher numbers to remedy that.

Contrast NBC’s headline with this one from WTOC:

Mayor who led Ferguson through turmoil is re-elected

So why did NBC feel it necessary to play identity politics with its headline?  And why, if that’s the game, did NBC fail to even mention that the City of St. Louis, which has been an inextricable part of the Ferguson storyline, just elected its first female mayor?

As Dana Loesch noted on Twitter last night:

Sure does seem like the only value Ferguson holds for some news outlets is as a whipping boy. Ferguson has endured more than its fair share of grief of late.  Might be time to give it a break.