Among the lessons learned in 2020, one of the most important is the need for professional compliance among newsroom editors and producers at mainstream news outlets. This is not because of the masses shouting “fake news,” but due to the clear breakdown between news and opinion reporting that has caused a measurable and growing distrust in the media. While the issue came to a head during a summer of “mostly peaceful” protesting — punctuated by significant bouts of rioting, looting and violence that was glossed over by progressive media cheerleaders like the Inquirer, the issue is becoming increasingly dangerous as newsrooms are reporting on potential election unrest based on their political beliefs, while omitting vital information about the law – which is now setting the table for chaos following the upcoming election.

Recent examples of this irresponsible approach to journalism are littered across the pages of the Inquirer. When police responded to a domestic violence call, they encountered Walter Wallace, Jr.; who was pacing the sidewalk with a knife ignoring calls to drop his weapon. When Wallace walked toward the officers and continued to ignore orders, the officers fired on him, spurring the now-predictable rioting and unrest following every police shooting in 2020, no matter the facts surrounding the case. The Inquirer’s headline, “Tense, hours-long protests erupted in West Philadelphia after police fatally shot a man,” carefully omits a key word in describing the incident and arguably the most vital piece of context therein: “Armed.” In the ensuing hours, the entire main page of the Inquirer website was dedicated to making a victim out of Wallace, questioning police tactics and classifying his shooting as a part of “190 years of brutality against Black people in Philadelphia.”

This is all deliberate. Had the Inquirer asked any subject matter expert on police procedure, they would have known that police are trained on the “21’ rule,” and could access the “surviving edged weapons” training video that has instructed law enforcement to remain 21 feet away from assailants armed with edged weapons for over 30 years — as tasers and OC (pepper) spray require a 15-foot distance and don’t always work. Furthermore, questions about why Wallace was on the street given his January conviction on robbery and burglary charges, as well as an August YouTube video where he was posing with a myriad of illegal firearms while rapping about committing murder were glossed over in today’s coverage.

The obvious political narratives being pushed are further demonstrated in a piece entitled “How Philadelphia activists are planning ‘mass action’ for the days following election,” published by the Inquirer on October 22. Penned by Anna Orso, whose bio states she covers “women, gender identity and sexuality” in addition to breaking news, Orso’s coverage of the protests already being planned throughout Philadelphia following election day borders on promotion.

Most notable in Orso’s piece are repeated demands from activists that “every vote should be counted,” without any mention of the validity of the ballot in question, or a hard look at the subtext — what happens, exactly, if these activists aren’t satisfied with the final vote tallies?

As election day approaches, this issue is of key importance to the battleground of Pennsylvania, as legal challenges are being filed for consideration by the Supreme Court to appeal state court rulings that ballots can be received and counted up to three days after Election Day, and that signatures on mail-in ballots cannot be rejected as they would if registered voters appeared at a polling place in person on Election Day. 

Orso’s coverage of the protests already being planned throughout Philadelphia following election day borders on promotion.

Orso gives plenty of space to Juntos’ Erika Guadalupe Núñez, who says “the immigrant rights organization is dedicated to protecting the integrity of the election in part because many of the people it advocates for can’t vote,” so “that makes every eligible voter that much more precious.” They cannot vote because, by US law, undocumented aliens are not entitled to the vote (not that this is mentioned), or, as Núñez says, this “happens to be because of citizenship and borders.” Núñez continues: “If we see any sort of possibility that folks’ votes aren’t being fully counted, then we’re not going to accept it.” 

More activists echo the same sentiment: “If there’s an attempt throughout this election to stop the count early or make sure every vote isn’t heard, then our communities will come together again.”

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After a summer marked by constant protests, including shutting down traffic on interstates and justifying significant looting, what exactly does “not accepting it” mean? Orso and her editors do not ask, and do not care to.

By failing to point out that there’s no actual policy or government mandate to “make sure every vote is not heard” outside standard, existing lawful practices to prevent voter fraud, the Inquirer creates an environment where readers could reach a conclusion that they should protest any election result they don’t “accept,” which may lead to more violent and unlawful incidents on our streets. 

Similarly, by omitting the crucial detail of an armed suspect in the Walter Wallace Jr., case, readers — predominantly receiving headlines only on social media — are left with a sense of justification as to why over thirty police officers, of all racial backgrounds, were injured in Philadelphia last night — a fact little mentioned on the Inquirer main page. 

The failure for legacy newsroom editors to encourage objectivity and diversity of thought is creating a dangerous environment in American society. 

Anyone who has worked in public safety (like me) will tell you: crisis and conflict is ultimately resolved or made worse by the ability of individuals to find common ground. The way we, as people who have to live together in this nation, collectively choose to speak and engage with one another has the potential to shape the trajectory of events for better or worse.

When our media abandons its duty of objectivity, people abandon fact and “take sides;” creating a well-known concept called “the security dilemma.” In it, actions taken by a state aimed at increasing its own security prompt reactions that actually reduce security. Even purely defensive moves cause uncertainties over intentions and inadvertently lead to additional mistrust, tensions, or unrest. This dynamic is evident in the visceral reaction to calls for increased oversight and security measures relating to mail-in voting. 

The failure for legacy newsroom editors to encourage objectivity and diversity of thought is creating a dangerous environment in American society. 

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This has, in Pennsylvania, led to even fewer fraud prevention measures to be taken in the review of mail-in ballots; which makes even less sense considering the inherent security risks involved with allowing someone to request and return a ballot without any identity check, a porous reconciliation timeframe or even a matching signature on the ballot with the voter registration. And in the face of any one of these guardrails comes a chorus of dissent, aided and abetted by irresponsible media takes, which could then lead to street action and violence.

Given the Covid-19 pandemic, high unemployment and a correspondingly restless population, reactions to perceived racial injustice leading to animus against law enforcement, extreme political polarization, and next week’s election, Americans have become increasingly concerned about unrest and violence — particularly in the very likely circumstance that we face a contested outcome following Election Day. It should therefore be the responsibility of the main media players to be as objective as possible – and not to promote false assertions or conspiracy theories regarding perceived voter suppression. Furthermore, aside from an endorsement by the Editorial Board and pieces on the opinion pages; news reports should not be “taking a side” on an issue or political candidate. 

By promoting post-election protests, the Inquirer may be creating election-day intimidation issues that are exacerbated by the fact that Philadelphia is the only city in the Commonwealth that doesn’t constitutionally require constables at the polls. Ironically, this plays directly into the hands of those who opine that Democrats are going to attempt to use Philadelphia voter fraud as a counterbalance to Trump’s strongholds in Western and Central Pennsylvania.

Meaning progressive media cheerleading for post-election violence in turn fuels right wing reactionary sentiment that the vote is already going to be stolen.

In other words, America’s domestic “security dilemma,” created by extreme political polarization, is being fueled by irresponsible media reporting. It is vital for the media to promote lawful discourse, which includes obtaining permits for any demonstrations and condemning violence and dangerous forms of discourse of any kind. This means that you don’t make victims out of unlawful protesters who try to seize an interstate highway – you point out how dangerous this behavior is, and that law enforcement may use irritants to remove them from the road as a result. 

The Inquirer should air voices that condemn those acting unlawfully ahead of the election, instead of presenting a statistically unsupported argument that justifies unlawful behavior as a precursor to perceived government oppression, and stop fueling conspiracy theories or encouraging false information regarding “suppression” that amounts to whatever result favored by activists who profit from unrest. Ask any veteran who has served in communist or dictatorship-controlled nations; the mere existence of protests and regular criticism of the government is an example of the absence of the oppression that so many people say they are protesting against. 

If news organizations like the Inquirer can’t employ a “grown-up” in the room to assure objectivity and accuracy in reporting, how are we as a society going to restore norms of character, dignity and civility to our public discourse? When the media recognizes the problem with eroded editorial oversight and objectivity in coverage, they can work to actually inform their readers and therefore reduce the propensity for civil discord and violence at home.

Until then, we’ll see more unrest, as a debased media corps cheers it on from the sidelines.

A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his own experiences on both sides of the criminal justice system. He has served as a federal and municipal law enforcement officer and was the former Director, Office of Investigations with the American Board of Internal Medicine. @PublicSafetySME

2 thoughts on “A. Benjamin Mannes: Inquirer cheerleading for violence and unrest exposes irresponsible media corps”

  1. That witch Kamala is encouraging “going to the streets” and I assure you she likes violence with her First Amendment

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