In case you missed it, Navell Gordon and Anthony Newby of Minnesota Neighborhoods Organization for Change (NOC) were on Melissa Harris Perry’s show on MSNBC Sunday morning. Gordon is the young man in the now famous photo with Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, the one at the heart of the now national #pointergate story. Watch:
Navell Gordon has face. He has a name. A Voice. A Story.
Thank you, Melissa Harris Perry for introducing the country to the young man whose name, voice and story was blurred and distorted by an irresponsible journalist and the television station backing him.
One of the most frustrating aspects of KSTP’s #pointergate debacle is that the station’s “explanation” for why they ran with the insane accusation that Gordon and Mayor Hodges were flashing gang signs is as bad, as hurtful, as wrong, as the original story itself. In their Friday afternoon statement about #pointergate and their subsequent news followup to the story, KSTP makes the point that their story was about the “Mayor’s judgment” and not Gordon, telling us that this is why they “blurred the individual’s face and did not name the group he was working for.“ As I wrote in a previous post,
That is not only not a good explanation, that is precisely the problem, KSTP. You ignored the context in order to sell a sensationalist story spoon-fed to you by the Police Federation. If you had named the organization, explained what they were doing, and given the full context, viewers would have immediately seen how insane was the proposition that the Mayor and Gordon were flashing gang signs.
If you had explained the context, you wold have had to explain that NOC is an organization dedicated to improving the lives of young people of color, including and especially those who have made past mistakes. If you had named Navell Gordon, you would have had to admit that sensationalizing his story by calling him a “convicted felon” isn’t news — his past, and a desire to rebuild it, is precisely why he’s doing the organizing work he’s doing.[…]
Your newsroom didn’t blur Gordon’s face and fail to name NOC out of some concern for him or the community — you did that because, had you done basic journalism, your story would have fallen apart.
Someone on Twitter later pointed out something I’d missed when I first saw the story. The KSTP newsroom didn’t just blur out Gordon’s face, they blurred out his t-shirt so you can’t read what it says: “VOTE”.
KSTP was so intent on making it look like the Mayor was consorting with a bad, bad man that they erased his name, his identity, and any evidence that he was actually doing something very positive for himself and his community at the very moment that photo was taken.
KSTP still has lots to answer for. They say in that first segment that the person in question, Gordon, has no known gang ties. (If he’ not in a gang, aren’t those just fingers, KSTP?) That evening, however, in an epic twitter meltdown, reporter Jay Kolls called Gordon a “gangbanger.” While his twitter feed has gone silent, Kolls’ daughter has also called Gordon a gang member in her public twitter feed. I know that in Kolls’ initial inquiries into the story he unequivocally described the man in the photo as a “known” gang member. So why, then, did the story air saying that he is not known to have any gang affiliations? Did the information Kolls was fed by his sources turn out to be so far off base that it could not be corroborated? If so, why did they run with the story anyway?
Some have speculated that KSTP’s double-down may have to do with bracing for a lawsuit. If they and their reporter knowingly put out false information about an individual, one can see how admitting a mistake now could be tantamount to admitting slander.
KSTP now tries to hide behind their blurring of Gordon’s identify as if to suggest they were doing him some kind of favor when, in fact, it was ignoring him as a human being that allowed them to inflame racist fears of a dangerous black man who (even though their own research suggested otherwise) must be in a gang. By making him no one, he became the Black Everyman who is used to stoke fear. As a blurred face, Gordon is Willie Horton and every other image ever used to scare white folks about crime.
KSTP simply could not tell the story they wanted to tell, of a white Mayor consorting with danger, if they had actually named Navell Gordon and treated him like a human being and not an abstract concept. Because Navell Gordon is not an abstract concept. He is a man. A man who has made mistakes and admitted to that. A man who was, at that very moment they sensationalized, working to make his community better. Navell Gordon is a man who deserved to be treated like one.
And that is why KSTP must retract their story and apologize.
In my previous post, I listed a few actions people can take to express their outrage at KSTP. Since I wrote that, NOC has started a public petition at pointergate.org. If you’ve not yet signed it, go there now.