Jonathan Capeheart, the Washington Post columnist and MSNBC contributor, apologized this week for his role in perpetuating the Ferguson myth of “hands up, don’t shoot.” In a column published Monday, Capeheart wrote “hands up, don’t shoot” may have been shorthand for a movement, but it “was wrong, built on a lie.”
Capeheart’s column, built on a report by the Department of Justice, urged others–especially in the media–who “march(ed) under the banner of a false narrative…(to) admit our error and keep on marching.” For that, Capeheart reports he has been vilified on social media, and faced accusations of selling out.
But like the “second shooter” that is invariably described as being part of school shootings until later disproven, the facts of Ferguson took months to determine beyond any doubt. And while CNN’s Don Lemon questioned the possibility that “hands up, don’t shoot” might be a “false narrative” back in December, it wasn’t until this week that CNN’s Brian Stelter reported the narrative was wrong–months after three CNN hosts put their hands up, copying the gesture despite suggestions at the time it might not have happened.
Fox News host Megyn Kelly, trained as a lawyer, famously approaches stories with an attorney’s brain. Back in December, Kelly cautioned that witness testimony describing Michael Brown with his hands up, as with all witness testimony, might prove to be unreliable. Raising her own arms on her show “The Kelly File,” Kelly said “this may be a lie.”
And Kelly has stepped out of the march of a false narrative before. Back in 2006, Kelly, then a Fox News correspondent, was one of the first to raise questions about the Duke lacrosse case. As The New York Times Magazine described it in a cover story in January:
Most of the news coverage treated the case as a test of racial privilege and justice. Kelly took a decidedly different approach. Frequently citing “defense sources,” she was often first with an escalating series of stories that cast serious doubt on the accuser. Media critics on the left vilified her for her coverage, but the case eventually unraveled, and prosecutors dropped the charges.
While Kelly has been prescient in refusing to simply accept a powerful, but questionable, set of facts, she has had far less success convincing people with less skepticism to admit, as Capeheart did, that they were wrong.
As Kelly said earlier this month:
We saw members of Congress on the steps of the Capitol, hands in the air saying “hands up don’t shoot.” And if one of them has so far apologized for misleading America we haven’t heard it. Enough is enough. Institutional racism is a real problem. Fanning the flames, rushing to judgement, taking things out of context is also deeply problematic and dangerous and it needs to stop. Everyone needs to be responsible of how they approach this issue.