Ever since police in Ferguson, Mo., released surveillance footage that appears to show Michael Brown stealing cigars from a convenience store minutes before he was shot to death after a confrontation with a local cop, we've heard an endless chorus of perceived wisdom that releasing the video was certain to cause more chaos.
The fact that civil disorder grew far worse in the wake of the video's release, and only 24 hours after relative calm when the Missouri highway patrol assumed jurisdiction over the case, has repeatedly been cited as evidence that putting the footage in the public domain was sheer folly. (Audio clips after the jump)
What has been lacking from media analysis of the situation in Ferguson is a cool-headed appraisal for the actual reason that release of the video -- in response to FOIA requests from the media -- led to more violence and upheaval. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, never one to shy from controversial analysis, has filled that void.
Here's what Limbaugh said on his radio show about this yesterday -- and man did he nail it (audio) --
LIMBAUGH: Let's go to the audio sound bites. We have a montage, Saturday and Sunday, of a bunch of drive-by media people talking about the video being blamed, the release of the video, in St. Louis, being blamed for the violence and looting in Ferguson, Mo.
AUDIO MONTAGE FROM SUNDAY TALK SHOWS: Two nights of looting and violence following the release of this video ... A piece of video becomes a new flashpoint ... The anger here apparently sparked in part by the release of the surveillance video ... Protesters very angry that the police there released this surveillance video ... Violence erupting after police in Ferguson, Mo., released surveillance video ... The pot boiled over Friday when the Ferguson police chief released this surveillance video ... Protesters were outraged over the release of the video ... Federal authorities did not want police to release this video over concerns of further escalating the situation ... It escalated Friday night after Ferguson police released a video ... There was peace but then the local police chief released that video ... Releasing that video, which seemed to just really inflame people ... This video of the shoplifting, it changed the storyline ...
LIMBAUGH: Why? Would somebody tell me why? There is a misconception out there, until the video is released, the misconception is that a gentle giant (as Brown was initially described) was walking down the street, eager to start college classes, and a murderous racist white cop came up and for no reason, without much provocation, shot him. And then this video gets released on Friday and it shows that the gentle giant was not innocent. He had shoplifted. More information was added, not less. Nothing was changed, no lies had taken place, they just released a video and this is enough to cause looting and riots and so forth? Why? When are these looters and rioters going to figure out that all they got to do is move five or six blocks and they can destroy other people's stuff, instead of their own town.
But why would the release of the video -- now I'm talking about in a sane world -- why would more information, hey, this changes things a little bit. Because it destroyed the myth, folks! That's why, because it destroyed the myth, the phony narrative that had been created all week long, all of a sudden destroyed because now the gentle giant could no longer be seen the way he was originally portrayed.
Limbaugh revisited this premise later in his show Monday (audio) --
Why would a videotape of the gentle giant committing a crime in the convenience store, why is that character assassination? Why is that incendiary? No, no, folks, I understand, I know that in a powderkeg situation like this, I know how it's going to be interpreted, that's my point. There was no doctoring. If this were made up, if they had created a video out of nothing and made it look like it was Michael Brown but it wasn't, and if they had gone to great lengths to smear Michael Brown, then yeah, but this really happened. He really did hold up the convenience store. And it added information because up until this point on Friday, nobody knew what was in it.
I remember sitting here on Friday when this thing came out, when they released the video, and I remember my initial reaction and I'm reading some of the closed captioning on the television from some of these commentators and they're all saying, well this changes everything. Why did it change everything? It changed everything because up until then, they had succeeded in creating a myth that the cop had murdered this citizen! Let's just be honest. That's what they were trying to concoct. The cop, for whatever reasons, unstated racism, had murdered this kid! His hands up and he was unarmed and he's surrendering and all that and this cop just ...
And so they had their narrative, they had their template, they had their version of events which fed this myth that white cops shoot innocent young blacks all the time -- except they don't. In fact, again, I say it is rare and that's why it always makes news, 'cause it doesn't happen all the time.
Compare the lucidity of Limbaugh's argument to the theater-of-the-absurd claim from Brown family lawyer Anthony Gray on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday with Martha Raddatz guest hosting (audio) --
RADDATZ: The release of this surveillance tape that police say shows Michael Brown in that convenience store. What was the reaction of the family to that and how were they told?
GRAY: Well, first of all, they were very appalled by it. They saw it for the first time, at least a glimpse of it, on nationwide TV. They had requested an opportunity through the attorneys to see any video footage before it was released. That request obviously was not honored, so quite naturally the reaction was very, on the part of the family, they were very disturbed by it. And I would just point out that no one from the family was given an opportunity to even authenticate that that was actually Mike Brown Jr., in the video.
RADDATZ: But they believe it is. (Hard to tell if Raddatz is asking a question or making an assertion).
GRAY: Well, they haven't really examined it for that purpose.
At risk of stating the obvious, why else would they examine it?