On Saturday the WaPo featured a wordy piece devoted to Darren Wilson’s dysfunctional family of origin, and the racial and other problems in the police force he used to work for, difficulties that seem to have had nothing whatsoever to do with him. As William A. Jacobson has written, it’s an attempt at guilt by association.

That effort seems even more biased when it is contrasted with a lengthy AP article published the very next day in the Sunday WaPo that tells us what a great guy Michael Brown was.

From Saturday’s article about Wilson, Darren Wilson’s first job was on a troubled police force disbanded by authorities:

…[E]veryone leaves a record, and Darren Dean Wilson is no exception.

People who know him describe him as someone who grew up in a home marked by multiple divorces and tangles with the law…

Wilson has had some recent personal turmoil: Last year, he petitioned the court seeking a divorce from his wife…

His parents divorced in 1989, when he was 2 or 3 years old…

In 2001, when Wilson was a freshman in high school, his mother pleaded guilty to forgery and stealing. She was sentenced to five years in prison, although records suggest the court agreed to let her serve her sentence on probation.

She died of natural causes in November 2002, when Wilson was 16…

As Professor Jacobson has described, the article also details the racial tension in the Jennings police department where Wilson previously worked, although they could find nothing to implicate him.

But when the writers deal with the Ferguson incident itself, they somehow fail to mention Brown’s robbery of the convenience store, his getting physical with the clerk there, or the fact that star witness Dorian Johnson was present at the robbery, has a previous record (including a history of lying to the police about an earlier alleged offense) and therefore had a strong motivation to lie in his tale of what happened when Brown was shot. WaPo reporters Carol D. Leonnig, Kimberly Kindy and Joel Achenbach merely describe Johnson’s version versus the police version as “competing narratives.”

In contrast, here are excerpts from the AP article on Brown, written by Sharon Cohen, Jim Suhr, Alex Sanz, and Ryan J. Foley, that the WaPo published on Sunday, Michael Brown called ‘little kid in big body’:

Family and friends recall a young man built like a lineman — 6-foot-3, nearly 300 pounds — with a gentle, joking manner. An aspiring rapper who dubbed himself “Big Mike.” A fan of computer games, Lil Wayne, Drake, the movie, “Grown Ups 2” and the TV show “Family Guy.” A kid who was good at fixing things. A struggling student who buckled down to finish his courses, don his green graduation gown with red sash and cross the stage in August to pick up his diploma…

Kennedy became acquainted with Brown while running a credit recovery program the young man was enrolled in that allowed him to catch up so he could graduate with his class. Brown, he says, could be led astray by kids who were bad influences but by spring, he became focused on getting his degree.

Kennedy also would bring in recording equipment Brown could use for rapping — he wanted to perform and learn a trade to help support himself. “His biggest goal was to be part of something,” the teacher adds. “He didn’t like not knowing where to fit in life. … He was kind-hearted, a little kid in a big body. He was intimidating looking, but I don’t think he ever was disrespectful to me.”

Brown loved music even as a young child. Ophelia Troupe, his art teacher for five years in elementary school, remembers a reserved, polite little boy — he’d always respond “yes ma’am” or “no ma’am.” He kept to himself but lit up when she’d play her son’s beats — which make up the backbone of hip-hop and rap songs — in class as a reward if the students behaved.

Unlike the piece on Wilson, the profile of Brown at least manages to mention the convenience store robbery. This is the way it is described:

Ferguson police identified Wilson at the same time they released a video of an alleged theft showing Brown snatch some cigars in a convenience store just minutes before he was killed. In the video, Brown is shown grabbing a clerk by the shirt and forcefully pushing him into a display rack.

Brown’s family angrily denounced that video as character assassination.

They’ve portrayed Brown as “a gentle giant,” who liked to post photos on his Facebook page of himself with young relatives, a kid who tried football his sophomore year but abandoned the idea before his first game, fearing he might hurt someone.

“He was funny, silly,” his father, Michael Brown Sr., recently said. “Any problems that were going on or any situation — there wasn’t nothing he couldn’t solve. He’d bring people together.”

Tim Sneed, a 23-year-old neighbor of Brown’s grandmother, says the young man was so low-key he seemed almost invisible. “When he came to my house you wouldn’t even notice he was there,” he says. “That’s how quiet he was.”

Brown had been staying at the apartment of his grandmother, Desuirea Harris, this summer. She said Brown was excited about his future.

“My grandson never even got into a fight,” she says. “He was just looking forward to getting on with his life. He was on his way.”

I do not fault Brown’s grieving family for speaking well of him, although the description of a video as “character assassination” is a case of “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

I do fault all the reporters for presenting such carefully-selected “narratives,’ digging up every bit of dirt possible on Wilson (and since they can hardly find any, on his family instead) and every bit of good possible on Brown.

No one seems to have thought to look into the marital (or any other) history of Brown’s family, or whether any of his relatives have arrest records. And rightly so, because it really doesn’t matter; what is relevant is Brown’s own history.

But why, then, is the divorce of Wilson’s parents and their other history considered fair game by the press, and not that of Brown’s parents or relatives? After all, Brown had a mother and stepfather, and a biological father whose name is Michael Brown Sr., so we can conclude that some sort of divorce/separation and upheaval occurred. But it is virtually never mentioned, either in the AP article or in any other article I’ve been able to locate after doing some quick Googling. Nor is the history of any other family member of Brown discussed. Although there is some mention that the 18-year-old Brown was living with his grandmother for the summer, we don’t really know why and reporters don’t seem to be the least bit curious.

The contrast in press coverage of the two families is stark, and purposeful. “Competing narratives” indeed.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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