Excusing the Rioters: How the Media Have Shifted the Blame in Baltimore

The Baltimore riots surrounding the death of Freddie Gray became a moment for liberal reporters and commentators to take the blame off those who destroyed cars, looted businesses, burned a church senior center and hurled objects at police officers.

Liberal journalists claimed the real culprits were police “terrorism,” right-to-work states (for robbing Baltimore of jobs) and even local sports teams like the Ravens and Orioles.

Chris Matthews blamed the riots, in part, on “right-to-work states” in the South stealing jobs from labor union friendly Baltimore. CNN’s Marc Lamont Hill claimed it was wrong to call the violent acts a riot but rather “uprisings” against “police terrorism.” MSNBC political analyst Dr. Michael Eric Dyson contrasted the “forces of oppression that have besieged that urban terrain” with the unfairness of how the “Baltimore Ravens and the Baltimore Orioles with their tax-exempt status [were] being given tremendous goodies to stay into the city.”  

The following are the worst examples (so far) of media blame-shifting in coverage of the Baltimore riots:


CNN’s Marc Lamont Hill: “This Is Not a Riot” But “Uprisings” Against “Police Terrorism”



“No, there shouldn’t be calm tonight. Black people are dying in the streets. They’ve been dying in the streets for months, years, decades, centuries....I’m not calling these people rioters. I’m calling these uprisings, and I think it’s an important distinction to make. This is not a riot. There have been uprisings in major cities and smaller cities around this country for the last year because of the state violence that’s been waged against black female and male bodies forever....Part of what it means to say black lives matter, is to assert our right to have rage – righteous rage, and righteous indignation in the face of state violence and extrajudicial killing. Freddie Gray is dead. That’s why the city is burning and let’s make that clear. The city is not burning because of these protesters. The city is burning because the police killed Freddie Gray and that’s a distinction we have to make....We can’t pathologize people who, after decades and centuries of police terrorism, have decided to respond in this way.”  
— CNN’s Marc Lamont Hill on CNN Tonight, April 27.


Maddow: Baltimore Police “A Little Out of Control” During Riots



“The police have talked about the fact that they are willing to be tactically very aggressive as the situation stays out of control. They’re willing to use pepper pellets, they’re willing to use rubber bullets and other projectiles. We’ve seen them using gas today. But if they’re picking up things that are being thrown at them and throwing things back, that implies to me just as a lay observer that the police feel -- that the police are a little out of control, or they may not be necessarily using disciplined police tactics. Was that the perspective?”
— MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, April 27.


Chris Matthews Blames “Right-to-Work States” In Part for Baltimore Rioting



“Where are we going to find manufacturing jobs, good old boys jobs, young men’s jobs where you go to work, you come back a little dirty, a little sweaty, but you’re proud of yourself for a hard day at the plant. My uncle, my grandfather grew up in north Philly. I was living there, the neighborhoods now African-American. But none of those jobs are there. They were there when I was there. You get on the subway, two stops away you had a real job. You get into Baltimore, you can’t find a job with a short commute. And that’s, to me, the problem that’s behind all of this....I wish the jobs hadn’t first gone south, Congressman, because that’s where they went first. And they went to the right-to-work states, you know where they went, where the unions didn’t have any power. You could get people to work for nothing and the stuff wasn’t that good that was made down there. But that was the first stop on the trip away [of jobs leaving the country].”
— Chris Matthews during exchange with former Democratic Congressman Kweisi Mfume on MSNBC’s Hardball, April 27.

CNN’s Brooke Baldwin Blames Veterans Becoming Police Officers for Violence



“I mean, we talk about training, we talk about having officers – I was talking to the city councilman last week who was saying, ‘Brooke, these people have to live in the communities.’ There’s no emotional or there’s a lack of emotional investment and a lot of these young people – I mean, I’ve been talking about there so much. A lot of young people – and I love our nation’s veterans, but some of them are coming back from war, they don’t know the communities, and they’re ready to do battle.”
— Brooke Baldwin on CNN Newsroom, April 28.


MSNBC Political Analyst: Ravens, Orioles to Blame for Baltimore Urban Blight



“But what was also important: the Reverend Jesse Jackson [at Gray’s funeral] delivered an analytical insight into the forces of oppression that have besieged that urban terrain as brilliantly as Dr. [Jamal] Bryant did. And what he talked about, of course, not only the factors that Dr. Bryant spoke of, but the ways in which the Baltimore Ravens and the Baltimore Orioles with their tax-exempt status and their being given tremendous goodies to stay into the city. So you’ve got the urban blight contrasted to the extraordinary accumulation of capital for some people.”
— MSNBC political analyst Michael Eric Dyson on MSNBC’s All in With Chris Hayes, April 27.


Matthews: Critics “Trying to Hang” Baltimore Mayor for “Destroy” Comments



Chris Matthews: “What about the mayor’s position? What did you make of her comment about, she was going to separate the crowds from the people at Camden Yards for the Orioles’ game Saturday, from the people who wanted an area -- an area to destroy. That got some bad spin to it.”
Brian Mooar, NBC News reporter: “I can’t believe that, that’s what she meant to say, but that’s what she said.
Matthews: “I hope, I don’t think she did. I think she meant she was trying to control this -- I know what they’re doing to her: they’re trying to hang her with this thing.”
— Exchange about Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s comments that her police force tried to give rioters “space” to  “destroy” property, MSNBC’s Hardball, April 27.

— Geoffrey Dickens is Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center. Follow Geoffrey Dickens on Twitter.