Now that the dust has settled after the special election in Mississippi on Tuesday, when Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith won the U.S. Senate seat vacated by ailing incumbent Thad Cochran, the press is being accused of mishandling coverage of an incident that took place the day before the vote.
The problem began when a local NBC affiliate reported that several nooses and hate signs were found at the Mississippi state capitol in Jackson about 7:15 a.m.
According to an article posted by Alex Griswold, a staff writer with the Washington Free Beacon website, the initial report on WLBT quickly led to officials and politicians of all stripes denouncing the incident, and the news “quickly spread throughout the national media.”
“Most outlets uncritically passed along the framing that the nooses had been discovered next to ‘hate signs’” he stated, and tied the story to the controversy over a joke made by ... Hyde-Smith that if a constituent ‘invited me to a public hanging, I'd be in the front row.’"
“Then came a snag in the narrative,” the Free Beacon reporter noted, when at 3:40 p.m., the Mississippi Department of Public Safety released photos of the ‘hate signs’ left by the nooses,” some of which read:
On Tuesday November 27th thousands of Mississippians will vote for a senator. We need someone who respects lives of lynch victims.
We’re hanging nooses to remind people that times haven’t changed.
Griswold then asked: "Who in their right mind saw those signs and made the determination that they were "hateful"? The nooses were rather clearly left by a group critical of Hyde-Smith, her joke and Mississippi's racist past. I struggle to see how any rational person could judge otherwise.”
While admitting it’s “difficult to tell from her copy whether it was the WLBT reporter or her sources who described them as ‘hate signs,'” he stated, “based on the Huffington Post's reporting before the signs were public, I'd suggest that some if not all of the blame has to fall on the department's spokesman, Chuck McIntosh.”
McIntosh had stated that it was “unclear, based on the signs alone, whether the incident was related to Tuesday’s runoff election” between Hyde-Smith and Democratic candidate Mike Espy, who is an African American.
"While I can’t speak to their mindset, it is notable that it was done the day before the special election," the spokesman said.
That led Griswold to ask:
Huh? It is very clear "based on the signs alone" that the incident was tied to the election, given that they explicitly mention the election. He can absolutely speak to the writers' mindsets.
At the very least, the department sat by for eight hours as the false impression that they were "hate signs" went national.
Since then, the local station “has edited the body and headline of its original report to remove the ‘hate sign’ designation,” the Free Beacon reporter noted.
In addition, “most (but not all) national outlets have followed WLBT's lead and corrected their initial false reports,” he continued. “But even after the signs were revealed, the national media coverage has been heavily misleading.”
“That the nooses were an anti-racism protest is easily the single most important detail in the story,” Griswold added.
“It's always difficult to judge to what extent media bias can attributed to incompetence or maliciousness,” Griswold concluded. “But either way, it's clear the local and national media did a disservice to their readers, especially those who were effectively terrorized by a hate crime that never existed.”