The Media Set Him Up: Brown’s Stepfather

screen shot of Louis Head
screen shot of Louis Head

Yes, one more story about Ferguson. Neither about injustice nor lack of empathy. Neither about racism nor out-of-control cops.

This one is about Ferguson’s final victim: Louis Head, stepfather to the teenager, Michael Brown, whose death triggered recent events. Head shouted, “Burn the b**** down!” He is now under criminal investigation for inciting a riot. On the Wednesday after the riots, Head issued an apology. Indeed, it is hard to argue that he did not say it, did not say it angrily and did not mean it at the time. It is there in color footage and high-definition sound, from various angles.

And yet, the pictures and sound lie. Head did yell those angry profanities, but in reality the only people who heard him were those pointing high-density, directional microphones at him.

Yet he is likely in some serious jeopardy, thanks to the media.

The evidence is right there in those very subtitled video clips played over and over.

It starts with Brown’s mother choking back tears as she reacts to the decision not to indict the police officer, who killed her teenager. From the various angles there appear to be several thousand people gathered, surrounding the makeshift stage, and there is relative quiet as Brown’s mother speaks. And then as she breaks down, Head climbs up to embrace his wife, and, overcome with emotion, he turns and starts yelling his famous epithet.

Listen to the unenhanced audio, and you can barely make out what he is saying. By that time, there is so much noise with so many people screaming that it is hard to make out what he is saying even from a microphone close to him. CNN helped that poor audio by subtitling.

Furthermore, that same shot that shows the crowd also shows that the circle closest to Head and his wife is filled with cameras, many with the strongest available directional microphones. If anyone could hear him, it was the media.

Head yelled, but nobody could hear him. If he is being indicted only for his comment the question has to be “Whom did he incite?” The Supreme Court has ruled you cannot yell fire in a movie theatre – but what if nobody hears you?

This is not the first time the microphone has lied. In 2004, struggling presidential candidate Howard Dean was finally sunk, when a microphone caught him uttering an animalistic yell during a campaign rally. People in the room recalled it was so loud that nobody could hear him but the yell was picked up by the directional microphone he was holding and into the footnotes of history Dean slid.

There’s a word for this: “context.” We just don’t seem to be able to do that very well in the 24-hour news cycle. In Ferguson, we needed it more than anything else.

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Fri, 24 Mar 2017 04:09:28 -0400

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