MediaWatch: June 1991

Vol. Five No. 6

Two Views on Brutality


At ABC, police brutality isn't always police brutality. Consider two cases in California. When Los Angeles police beat Rodney King, ABC had devoted 23 stories to the case by the end of May and the incident was portrayed as part of a national problem.

Reporter Mark Potter declared on the March 20 World News Tonight: "Analysts say some officers may be more frustrated now because they face criminals that are better armed and more violent... Civil liberties activists blame some police chiefs and recent court rulings for giving officers too much leeway."

But the coverage was far different on April 16, 1990, when Peter Jennings introduced a story on nunchuks, "a new weapon in the police arsenal which is extremely effective." Reporter Brian Rooney explained that "It creates leverage officers just can't get with their hands....It hurts a lot, which is partly why it's so effective" and showed video of a pro-life protest to make his point.

As ABC showed activists, including women and priests, enduring the pain caused by the nunchuks, Rooney calmly narrated: "The nunchuks are supposed to cause pain without permanent damage, although some of the San Diego demonstrators say they hurt too much...But that's the idea." Perhaps the pro-lifers' political incorrectness prevented the media solidarity that comes with victim status.