When Mike Brown was killed by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson, no one could have predicted the social upheaval that was to follow. Police shootings have become a weekly occurrence in America that rarely stay in the public eye or the national news cycle for more than a day or two. But when Ferguson exploded, and it became apparent that the community would not be mollified by the standard response from elected officials, it quickly turned into a big story that left the mainstream media scrambling to provide coverage.
During the first days of protest, the images and video coming out of Ferguson came from independent media, photographers, videographers, and live stream operators in the St. Louis area via social media sites. People like St. Louis Alderman Antonio French became a trusted “on the ground” media source as the events in Ferguson unfolded and showed the world that news coverage was no longer the province of corporate media juggernauts.
As “rioting” and “looting” became the story, and video and images spread throughout the internet, news outlets started pouring into Ferguson. Overnight, dozens of news outlets appeared in Ferguson with their large cameras and production vans and created a large “media area” to establish their presence and declare to the residents of Ferguson that the media had arrived.
CNN went one step further than other corporate media outlets by sending Don Lemon, their most popular and most well-known African American news anchor. And while this might have made sense from a production standpoint, it really began the downward spiral of the changing narrative in Ferguson.
No longer was the story about an unarmed black teenager killed by a white police officer…it became about Don Lemon’s experience there as a black man in a racially charged environment. The residents in Ferguson had been dealing with racism and police harassment for decades, but once Don Lemon was pushed by a police officer and heard racial slurs being uttered by members of the National Guard, his incredulity at it happening to him became the centerpiece of the CNN coverage for days to follow.