CNN’s John King showed the worst kind of journalism Wednesday when he made controversial racial assumptions and falsely reported on-air that the suspect in the deadly Boston Marathon bombings was a “dark-skinned male.”
King was wrong and irresponsible. Law enforcement officials immediately refuted King’s report and, in fact, CBS News reported that the suspect is a “white male.”
As a seasoned journalist, and a black man, I am outraged – and offended — that King would recklessly single out all men of color as the terrorist suspect.
“I want to be very careful about this, because people get very sensitive when you say these things,” King said Wednesday. “I was told by one of these sources who is a law enforcement official that this is a dark-skinned male.”
He said that there had been a further description given, but he was refraining from sharing it with viewers.
“There are some people who will take offense for even saying that,” King said. “I understand that.”
“We can’t say whether the person spoke with a foreign accent, or an American accent?” Wolf Blitzer asked. “That would be premature.”
King repeated that he was only going to use the “dark-skinned male” description, saying that sometimes information did not turn out to be true.
“I’m making a personal judgment—forgive me, I think it’s the right judgment—not to try to inflame tensions,” King said. “They say it’s a dark-skinned male.”
Who said it was a “dark-skinned male?” A law enforcement source?
Monday’s blasts killed 8-year-old Martin Richard, of Boston, and 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, of Medford, Mass. On Wednesday, CBS News confirmed that the third fatality has been identified as Lu Lingzi, a 23-year-old graduate student at Boston University from Shenyang, China.
In the rush of trying to get a “scoop” on the case, King showed terrible judgment. Within seconds on air, King essentially turned every male of color a bombing suspect. King was wrong and he should apologize on-air.
“Dark-skinned male?” Rev. Sharpton asked on his MSNBC Show “Politics Nation.” “Coded, offensive language. These comments are very offensive. They have no place in our discourse.”
“What King’s words did is to make every dark-skinned male in Boston a suspect, and that’s shameful,” Sharpton added.
Sharpton is right.
The investigation is ongoing and the situation in Boston is tense and what Boston doesn’t need right now are journalists making racial assumptions and adding to an already stressful situation.
Earlier this week, a plane from Boston headed to Chicago was brought back to the gate at Logan Airport, after some passengers — who also participated in the marathon — expressed concern over two men, who were apparently not sitting next to each, were speaking in Arabic. The men were escorted off the plane.
And now, King is pointing the finger at men of color.
“Disturbing that it’s OK for TV to ID a Boston bombing suspect only as ‘a dark-skinned individual,’ ” PBS anchor Gwen Ifill tweeted about King.
Meanwhile, The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) said King’s reporting was “offensive.”
“There have been various reports identifying a potential suspect as “a dark-skinned individual,” NABJ said in a statement. “This terminology is not only offensive, but also offers an incomplete picture of relevant facts about the potential person of interest’s identity. When conveying information for the public good, and which can help law enforcement with the help of a vigilant public to keep the country safe, it’s important that such facts be put into proper context.”
Let’s hope John King gets the message and thinks before he injects “dark-skinned male” into his reporting.