I’m not going to offer any commentary on whether the jury verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse case was right, wrong, or something in between. But something struck me about the entire incident.
Virtually no one, other than a tiny handful of people, saw what happened on the night of Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Not one of the talking heads on the networks was there. Virtually no reporters were in the vicinity. Few police officers were in the area. The people who censor on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were (mostly) in California. Each of us who read, saw, or heard the story on Aug. 26 (and months afterward) were nowhere near Kenosha.
And very few of us watched the televised proceedings of the trial. We can’t really speak firsthand to everything the judge said, the attorneys said, and the witnesses said, and what the jury heard. And no one except the jury was in the jury room. We used to trust the trial-by-jury process, and we still do – when they deliver the verdict that fits our politics.
Our knowledge of everything involved with Kyle Rittenhouse was mediated. It’s why the news media are called the media – they’re in the middle; they sit between the news and the people who consume the news. And the news is more mediated than you might think. The reporter writes it or records it; an editor edits it; sensitive stories are often edited by multiple people. And then someone places it on a page or in a newscast. The commentators mediate the news yet again, taking a news story and rewriting it in a personal commentary style. Sometimes the commentator does it directly, and sometimes staff writers do it for the commentator.
The mediation is even deeper, framed by the particular technology the news medium is using – newspaper, television, radio, blog, social media, or whatever.
Deeper still is the narrative.
While we can’t say firsthand what happened in Kenosha, what we can say is that the media – liberal and conservative alike – didn’t report the news. Instead, their reported their particular narrative. The Kyle Rittenhouse case fell right into chasm between the racism / white supremacy narrative of the liberal media and the Second Amendment / self-defense narrative of conservative media. The liberal media narrative dominated because most of the media are liberal.
While it will be some time before the smoke clears, what we do know is that the media in general got this story colossally wrong. The errors and mistakes weren’t just minor or simple typos; they were major and almost designed to inflame passion and anger. And I’m speaking about both sides.
What we know and believe about Kyle Rittenhouse is a narrative, courtesy of our favorite news medium and commentator. You’ve heard and believed those reports within your own echo chamber, with your own set of suppositions and political inclinations. But that doesn’t mean that’s what happened in Kenosha.
There was a time when the media could help people sort through the news. But that time has passed.
The media also missed the larger story. What happened on Aug. 25, 2020, happened because society broke down. Nothing worked like it was supposed to work. Armed bands of people of both extreme persuasions were in the streets of Kenosha. Many were armed. And no one was there to stop them.
This is how drug cartels operate in Mexico.
In this series:
Photograph by William Topa via Unsplash. Used with permission.