The Mirror

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Turn The TV Cameras In Baltimore Off

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger

Ta-Nehisi Coates, one the nation’s most recognized race journalists and a national correspondent for The Atlantic, is down on the media in Baltimore.

Specifically live cameras. You hear that CNN, MSNBC and Fox News? He thinks they distort the story.

At 10:41 p.m. Tuesday night, 41 minutes after curfew, the reporter pushed for them to be nixed.

“Just cut off the live coverage of Baltimore,” Coates insisted on Twitter Tuesday. “It’s sort of beside the point. This is not the climax. It is the epilogue.”

He explained, “Cameras actually distort the story. The story already happened. The story began with policy and apexed with Freddie Gray’s death.”

So what’s the story?

“The story is simple,” Coates explained. “Gray died in state custody. Unlikely anyone will be punished. (Which explains the riots.) That’s pretty much it. The cameras aren’t actually adding to the ‘story.’ They can’t really clarify the narrative.”

Coates absolutely sees bias, but not the left and right wing biases media reporters are accustomed to covering. “In so many ways they [the cameras] distort it with the bias of ‘Right Now,'” he wrote.

Thomas Levinson, an MIT professor of Science Writing, echoed his thoughts. “That’s the way cameras r designed 2 function – as inherently false witnesses, explicitly defining what’s to be excluded,” Levinson wrote. “Trust me on this. I’m a documentary filmmaker.”

Coates said that media reflecting the present doesn’t tell the whole story — so why have the news networks been there at all?

“Basic media ideas are ill-suited,” he wrote. “This story goes back to 1972. (at least) But we don’t have a way to present that.”

When Sara Mayeux, a fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School who is studying crime and punishment, said the media “lacks good ways of visualizing long term structural damage.”

Coates readily agreed. “Precisely,” he wrote. “Some of the worst violence is impervious to cameras.”

So should the TV cameras not be in Baltimore?

“Sure they should cover,” Coates continued. “Perhaps not 24 hours with cameras planted in one spot. This kind of ‘coverage’ is new.”

A follower challenged, “People want to see what is going on, room later for larger narratives.”

But to Coates, the larger narrative is inevitable and obvious.

“We have a good idea as to what will happen after Baltimore ‘calms down.'” he wrote. “This isn’t new. And in that sense, it isn’t ‘news.'”