04/09/2015 04:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Professional Journalists vs. The Video


Walter Scott murder caught on iPhone

Last week, following the MoJoCon in Dublin, there followed a heated discussion about the value of the 'journalist', culminating (perhaps) in an article in The Guardian by Roy Greenslade.

My argument had been, and remains, that the arrival of cheap and powerful new technologies like the iPhone now make everyone a 'journalist' (but in fact the very term is something of an anachronism). The journalists in the room (and online) were outraged. These are only tools, they argue. "Nothing can ever replace the professional journalist."

Ironically, a few days later, the all too unfortunate and all to real smoking gun arrived.

Walter Scott, as the world now knows all too well, was gunned down by office Michael T. Slager. The incident was captured on an iPhone by Feidin Santana - very much NOT a professional journalist.

OK. So far, so good.

But now comes the interesting part (courtesy of

Charleston's local ABC affiliate would begin their report with, what turned out to be, an outright lie:
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- A man involved in a traffic stop that turned into a physical altercation with a North Charleston police officer died Saturday after being shot by the officer.

But the New York Times video shows there was no "physical altercation." There was someone being shot in the back eight times while trying to run away. The report would go on to mix up police assertion with fact again, seemingly inventing witnesses who weren't there:

Police and witnesses say Scott tried to run from Slager before turning to fight for the officer's taser. It was during that scuffle that the officer fired his service weapon, fatally wounding Scott.
But what witnesses? I have asked the reporter, Greg Woods, to name the witnesses he documented; as of press time, he has not responded. Woods did not, in any of his reports, actually quote any witnesses saying they saw a "fight." What appears to have happened is that Woods was told by police there were witnesses and he reported it, uncritically.

But the ABC affiliate was not alone:

WCSC, the CBS affiliate in Charleston reported this:

Slager deployed his taser weapon to detain the driver but was unsuccessful, Pryor said.
Police say an altercation then began between Slager and Scott, resulting in a fight for the officer's taser.
During the fight, Scott gained control of the taser to use it against the officer who then fired his service weapon at the suspect, Pryor said.
While en route, the sergeant reported that he heard Slager say that he deployed his taser and was requesting for back up units, and seconds later reported "shots fired and the subject is down, he took my taser."

The NBC affiliate, News2, came in with this report:

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.

We now know that NONE of this was true, even though it was 'reported' by 'professional' journalists - and on major and serious and real networks. These people were full time professional employees reporting the news.

Mr. Santana was just an 'amateur' with a smart phone.

Whom do you trust more?

The professionals or the public?

And is this case an anomaly? Or is this how 'journalism' happens most of the time - a press release or a statement of fact by the police or the US Military or the Government suddenly becomes the truth, via the 'professional journalist'?

I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that with 3 billion smart phones in daily use worldwide, the South Carolina case is just the very beginning of an entirely new world of 'truth seeking' and truth telling - and truthful 'reporting'.