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Dallas police shooting: the New York Post shows how not to cover the violence

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

After a sniper killed five police officers on Thursday at protest in Dallas against the recent police shootings of two black men, most of the nation came together to express shock and horror. The New York Post, that city’s conservative tabloid of record, decided to take a somewhat different approach — and declared America to be in a state of civil war:

(New York Post)

The cover appears to suggest that protesters were responsible for the violence, even though Dallas police said the shots came from outside the protests and the people who organized the protest have explicitly stated that their organization "does not condone violence against any human being, and we condemn anyone who wants to commit violence."

The text box at the bottom right of the Post's cover, which should allow for slightly more nuance, actually makes this impression even stronger. It suggests the violence was part of a broader wave of conflict sweeping the nation, even though the other protests that were taking place around the country at the same time were overwhelmingly peaceful:

At least four cops were shot and killed and seven others wounded in Dallas last night as protests over the police slaying of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota rocked cities nationwide, including New York.

Let’s get something straight: A "civil war" is what’s happening in Syria, what’s happening in Afghanistan, or what happened in the United States from 1861 to 1865. Last night’s events were a terrible tragedy. But they do not mean that the US government is collapsing and that Americans are engaging in mass organized violence against one another. Even suggesting that a comparison to civil war might be worth thinking about is appallingly inaccurate.

Worse than inaccurate, actually — it’s irresponsible. Implying that one horrible event is part of a nationwide wave of violence makes problems seem far worse than they are. That’s especially bad when the implication is that black Americans demonstrating for their rights are the source of the problem. The last thing you want to do at a time when racial tensions are running high is to suggest that black people are waging war on the police, when they are most certainly not doing anything of the sort.

There’s no legitimate journalistic justification for what the New York Post did. Things are bad enough in America when you just look at the facts, honestly.

But I guess you can say one thing for the New York Post: Capitalizing on racialized fear after a tragedy will probably help it sell papers.

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