TV Station Takes Four-Year-Old Child’s Quote Out of Context

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Bob Butler
July 26, 2011

A Chicago television station is being blasted by civil rights leaders and news media professionals for airing edited video of a 4-year-old boy that took his statements out of context, violating the basics of journalism ethics.

The Maynard Institute published a story on July 21 detailing how Chicago CBS station WBBM ran a story about the June 29 shooting of two teenagers in the Park Manor neighborhood.

A freelance photographer interviewed the youngster about whether the shooting frightened him. The station aired the portion of the interview in which the boy responded by saying he was not afraid and wanted his own gun.

However, it failed to air the portion of the child’s quote in which he said he wanted a gun because he planned to be a police officer.

Hagit Limor“This was wrong so many ways, it’s hard to know where to start,” said Hagit Limor, investigative reporter at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati and the President of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).

The following is a transcript of what the station aired June 30th.

Boy: “I’m not scared of nothing.”

Reporter: “When you get older are you going to stay away from all these guns?”

Boy: “No.”

Reporter: “No? What are you going to do when you get older?”

Boy: “I’m going to have me a gun!”

Anchor Steve Bartelstein ended the story saying, “that was scary indeed.” Co-anchor Susan Carlson exclaimed, “hearing that little boy there, wow!”

After the story ran July 21, the Maynard Institute received another video that contained the rest of the boy’s interview. The sender said he was blurring the video and reduced its quality to try and protect the youth. Here is that transcript.

Reporter: “Boy, you ain’t scared of nothing! Damn! When you get older are you going to stay away from all these guns?”

Boy: “No.”

Reporter: “No? What are you going to do when you get older?”

Boy: “I’m going to have me a gun!”

Reporter” “You are! Why do you want to do that?”

Boy: “I'm going to be the police!” 

Reporter: “Okay then you can have one."

Shawnelle Richie, director of communications for CBS 2, initially admitted the video of the child should not have aired.

“We acknowledge that a mistake was made, both in the reporting and editing of the story,” said Richie. 

But she did not mention that the boy’s comments were taken out of context.

Previously Richie reported the video only aired once and was taken off the air immediately. Now she acknowledges that was incorrect.

“The story was broadcast twice within the same morning news block: once during the 4:30 a.m. half hour and again during the 6:30 a.m. half hour,” she said.

“As soon as our news management identified the problem that morning, they took immediate steps to ensure that the video would not air in subsequent newscasts and addressed the issue with our news staff.”

But journalists interviewed about the incident said the broadcast raised troubling issues.

“Perpetuating a stereotype on something any little kid – including my own 6-year-old – would have said? And then to find out he said he wanted to be a police officer, and THAT was cut? It’s not just out of context; it’s downright misleading,” Limor said.

One of the questions raised by this incident is whether the person who wrote the story intentionally left out the end of the boy’s quote or never looked at the entire interview.

Catherine BrownEither way it’s a problem, according to Catherine Brown, news producer and national vice president for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in Philadelphia.

“One of the first things we learn is to look at your video to see what you have to work with,” she said.

This story is part of the Maynard Institute’s ‘Health and the Media’ series that focuses on changing the way the media reports on boys and men of color. The goal is to ensure that all segments of this country are fairly and accurately portrayed.

 “Airing a video of the boy saying he wanted a gun that edits out the context simply  reinforces stereotypes that African American males are violent, even preschoolers,” said Dori J. Maynard, President of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

Both videos were played for delegates at the NAACP Convention in Los Angeles.

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said the case was “disturbing.”

“As somebody who’s a former journalist, like many past presidents of the NAACP, it’s important to tell the whole truth, because when you tell half a truth you’re, in effect, lying,” he said.

Al TompkinsAl Tompkins, Senior Faculty for Broadcasting and Online at the Poynter Institute, who wrote an article on the ethics of interviewing juveniles for the Radio Television Digital News Association, agreed the issue brought up a number of questions.

“If the child did witness a shooting, could the child be a witness? Could identifying the child put him in harm's way? Would the station have interviewed the child or used the video if the child had been a rich white kid? “ he asked.

“The station should answer questions about this video and be responsible for it,” he said. “The SPJ Code of Ethics includes "Be Accountable-Be Accessible" as one of the four main tenets of journalistic ethics,” he added.

NAACP President Jealous concurred, calling on station management to speak up and not leave the answers to the director of communications.

“We who care about how are people are portrayed in the media need to make sure that the general manager of the station understands that it’s just not acceptable to misrepresent what people are saying, especially someone so young,” he said.

Attempts to contact the news director and the general manger were not answered.

More than half a dozen employees at the station were also contacted, but each either refused to comment on the story, with some saying they feared reprisals, or did not respond to repeated requests. Several said they were not authorized to speak about the incident and referred inquiries to management.

Charna KinardLoyola University NAACP chapter president Charna Kinard, 22, a Chicago native, said she was not surprised that CBS 2 aired a video that made a 4-year old boy look like a criminal.

“That is not my preferred news station because it’s very biased. The only thing worse than that channel I would say is Fox”, she said. “All they show is a lot of crime. They don’t show any type of improvement in the community. They really perpetrate the whole ‘Chicago is a very dangerous, segregated city.’”

In the end, said SPJ President Limor, the broadcast breached the foundation of journalistic integrity.

“This decision reveals a lack of understanding of the very basic tenets of journalism,” she said. “I’m shocked anyone working in the #3 market could continue to be employed given such unprofessional decision-making. My journalism professors at Northwestern would have flunked this person freshman year.”

 

Comments

Ethics fail & sad manipulation of 4-year-old interviewee

This is an ethics fail on multiple levels and very deceptive on the part of whoever edited this video. It's outrageous to manipulate the words of a child, let alone a recent toddler who is very articulate for age 4. Why was a reporter using the word "damn" while interviewing a kid who might've been wearing Pull-Ups? I can only wonder: If this were a different youngster, from a different background, in a different neighborhood — or even another gender — would this reporting and editing have been handled more appropriately? This question is why the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) continues to advocate and why our mission remains as relevant today as it was 36 years ago.

grammar

Anyone writing up a transcript of a dialogue should know the difference between "then" and "than."

Grammar

You're right Tara. Thanks for pointing out the mistake! I'll correct it.

Etymology

Considering the fact that both "then" and "than" are derived from the same Proto-Germanic word "thana", were written the same way until ca. 1700 and that spelling is not part of grammar proper as any linguistics student learns in the first semester, your comment was needlessly pedantic and prescriptivist.

Really?

That's the only response you have to this whole debacle? An excessively pedantic quibble about the difference between then and than, and phrased quite rudely too?

OKAY!

Thank you for calling them out on this.

I'm bothered that the reporter used an unprofessional demeanor and language with a child to try and elicit a reaction.  Also, that they clearly edited the quote to make their story more lascivious, that it does seem to be intentionally cut and pasted to reinforce a stereotype based on his ethnicity, and at the implied slap at the police by cutting out the child's desire to oppose the kind of violence that this story was about.  

Clearly an issue of comprehension here...

 

@Cindy and @Rik - as clearly stated in the article, the interview conducted with the child was not conducted by a reporter but by a freelance photographer who then submitted the video to the news network. The photographer was not responsible and should not be held accountable for the way that the submitted video was edited. Let's not mistake for a minute here an interview conducted with the best of intentions, as filler for a news piece, and malicious editing done on the part of a highly biased broadcast network. (And I do concede that the way that the footage was edited was heinous, to say the least.)

 

Local News

First of all, this type of video editing of sound bites happens every day in local and national news. Every day. This is just the first time you see the distortion from the ground up. Local news producers are taught to "produce" news, not journalism. They produce news for ratings. Right or wrong, that is the way it is.

I think people who have actually worked in TV news will read this article and find it funny. It quotes a lot of academics who toss the j-word around. Journalism is not a word ever used in local TV newsrooms. News directors don't want to hear it. Reporters who bring it up to producers in order to bring them back to reality are often labeled story killers. And no one in a TV newsroom adheres to or has ever heard of the SPJ Code of Ethics. Give me a break.

The SPJ president's quote about her "journalism professor would flunk him in his freshaman year" is also out of touch.

The SPJ president and her journalism professor would be hard-pressed to obtain a job at any level in local TV station and probably couldn't handle the workload if he did. The moment they started harping of journalism and a code of ethics they would be gone. Local news is not acdemia. It's theater.

Yes, use of the boy's sound bite was bad judgment. No child should be interviewed without a parent's consent.

But come on, it's local TV news. It's not high journalism nor has it ever been. It's television. It's theater first. No complaining or self imposed code of journalism ethics wil change ever that.

Your highest and most potent form of protest is to turn off your TV. Nothing harms a TV station or a program more than to lose viewers. It's the only power a really viewer has to effect change.

FIling complaints and calling out of the station's management is futile. You may or may not get a response, but you will never change local TV news and how it is produced.

Remember, TV news is theater first, not journalism.

 

 

Seriously?

There most certainly is a big difference between "editing" and "lying." What happened wasn't funny in the slightest. I expect sensationalism when I'm watching drama, or a phony reality TV show. I don't watch that stuff to learn anything, especially not about my community. When you're reporting the news I expect journalism, not theater. And having taken journalism classes as an undergrad I can safely say that my professor would have killed me for making such a huge mistake. In short, you're wrong. Journalism majors are required to take ethics courses to graduate, so I would say it is kind of a big deal in reporting. What this station did was at best cheap, and at worst inexcusable. I feel for that poor kid. Imagine his classmates and teachers watching that report and thinking he's violent now. I hope everyone involved in this apologizes for the error, and acknowledges that they screwed up. 

In response to, "Submitted by

In response to, "Submitted by Guest (not verified) on Mon, 08/01/2011 - 19:54."

You either didn't read or didn't comprehend JimMCD's post, which made perfect sense.  Local TV "News" is entertainment first and foremost, and its purveyors don't even consider it journalism.  Most objective outside observers wouldn't either.  I doubt the news stations are even looking to hire reputable journalists.  They just want the best entertainers they can get.  Sorry to be so blunt, but your expectations don't match up with reality (re: expecting journalism instead of drama when watching local TV news), and your reading comprehension skills could use some improvement.

bunk

Not true.  I did not see this incident, so "turning off the TV" wouldn't have worked.  The fact that people are complaining about this will bring the story to a wider audience, and THOSE people may well turn to another channel.  Thus, bitching about it publicly actually DOES do some good.

Yeah but....

Ok, that's all true. 

But the people watching it BELIEVE it.  And not because they're fools, but because it purports to be believeable and passes itself off as true.  

There needs to be some line between what is actually supposed to be true and what is supposed to be entertainment, even if the enterainment value is in being fooled by it. 

This isn't professional wrestling (which is, in fact, completely real of course).  It's real reporting on the lives of real human beings.  It's not a good thing to forget that.

Responsibility

The truth of the matter is that you are indeed correct; but you failed to mention that we played a very important part in the creation of this theatrical monster called "TV news". It is, like any other program on television, a consumer driven business that caters to the whims and demands of the viewing public; if we do not tune in, they will not last. It takes very little effort to realize that the general public, as a whole, will choose sensationalism over truth most every time; otherwise we would not be up to our necks in media like tabloids magazines, celebrity-gawkers, and most YahooNews articles.

Unfortunately, sensationalism sells, playing to our asinine cultural stereotypes sells, and making us believe that those in "other" groups are less than us... well that seems to sell best of all. I am ashamed to acknowledge that the products of our culture cater to the lowest common interests, which are usually violence, sex and more violence. Despite our obsession with them, we continually superimpose these characteristics on certain groups of people to maintain our sense of moral superiority... all the while tuning in to any media outlet that is willing to up the ante.

While it may seem insightful to bemoan the manner in which our news media chooses to represent "the truth", we have no one but ourselves to blame for our continued willingness to reward them with our patronage. Like any other marketplace, the media will produce what the public demands, and unfortunately, we seem to demand sensationalism and simple stereotypes.

Questionable journalism abounds

While highlighting the obvious journalistic failing in regards to context, you decide it's newsworthy to insert a quote criticizing fox news, which has no relevance to the story. Was there any discussion as to whether the fox news throwaway quote was relevant or advanced the story in any way?

They must have learned this

They must have learned this tactic from the same book as Michael Moore.

You mean, Fox (aka Faux)

You mean, Fox (aka Faux) News, don't you?

Umm... thank you Mr. Reporter

Umm... thank you Mr. Reporter for telling him "ok, then you can have one."  Thanks for being the authority on who is allowed to have a gun and who isn't.  Idiots.

Wake up

I love how nobody's focusing on the actual problem here.  We have a society where 4-year-olds want guns.  Wake up people.

There is absolutely no

There is absolutely no problem with a 4 year old wanting to be a policeman. I think it's commendable and perhaps even speaks well of the values he has learned from his parents.

Are you kidding? Four year

Are you kidding? Four year olds have always wanted guns... that toy manufacturers produce artificial, red-capped versions.

The issue here, however, is that the boy wanted a gun in addition to a badge... when he becomes a police officer as an adult.

Unbelievable

I can't believe this.  Whatever happened to journalistic integrity?  We've got a serious problem in modern journalism, from Murdoch down to the local news.

Stop Fooling Yourself

You make it sound as if before Rupert Murdoch got Fox News going we had journalistic integrity. Go Google "Yellow Journalism". Moreover, Joseph Pulitzer wasn't even the start of it. Our media have been sensationalist since before we were even a country.

Outragous

Mr. Murdoch must tap this kid's family phones now! This kid must be stopped.

Reinforcing stereotypes

"Airing a video of the boy saying he wanted a gun that edits out the context simply reinforces stereotypes that African American males are violent, even preschoolers," said Dori J. Maynard. Assuming that African American men who are not police officers are incapable of responsible firearm ownership simply reinforces stereotypes that African American males are violent. Why is it that, absent the kid's statement that he wants to be a cop, we should all assume that he wants a firearm in order to shoot up the neighborhood rather than for self-defense? I consider African American men who own firearms to be decent people until proved otherwise. Maybe you should too.

Lying On A Little 4 year old Baby

this goes to show you that no matter the age of a child, as long as he/she is BLACK it is open season for White People to falsely accuse, arrest, attack, rape, murder with no amount of guilt or conscience.

 

God in heaven what in the world is wrong with White people.

Cry me a river

Keep on playing the race card. Wa wa wa

And you keep playing...

the racist card.

Seriously... Grow UP!

You are allowed to say whatever you think about white people, but when I say something about blacks, suddenly, I am racist and need to be locked up? This isnt right by any means, but it has nothing to do with being BLACK. Seriously, if you cant read an article without thinking automatically that it was only because they were black, then maybe you shouldnt read them. GROW UP!

Misleading? No. More than that.

Someone should lose their job for this. It's the worst kind of violation of ethics, its unprincipled. It stinks to heaven.

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