WLUK FOX 11 | 6-2-2017
The recent shooting at an Appleton bar in which a patron was accidentally shot by an Appleton Police Officer continues to produce news stories by various media outlets.
June 2, 2017, the Outagamie County District Attorney announced that no charges would be filed against the officer – Lt. Jay Steinke, a veteran officer of the department with more than 25 years of experience.
That news conference was covered by all of the local Green Bay/Fox Cities news media. But despite receiving the same information, different outlets reported the findings in different ways.
Take for example this story by WLUK FOX-11. Wisconsin Media Check Foundation believes this story to be an example of bias by context. The story was part of team coverage by the station, which broadcast reports on both the news conference and the reaction to the announcement by the D.A. from the victim’s family. It’s the reaction piece that doesn’t quite measure up to the station’s banner of “fair and balanced news coverage.”
In the report, Christina and Cynthia Thomas, reported to be sisters of the deceased victim, Jimmy Sanders made the following claims:
“It wasn’t just an accident, he was shot, he’s dead, there’s no accident.”
“I’m not trying to hear wrong place at the wrong time, he was wrongfully shot, and he’s gone. And the person who took him is not being held accountable.”
No one can blame the family members for their grief during a difficult time. There is no doubt the situation was tragic. But FOX 11 did not take care to sufficiently balance those claims. In fact, a “family advocate” and a private investigator for the family are also quoted in the story.
Again, taking care not to minimize or even understate the feelings of the family in a reaction piece such as this, is understandable. But there is no voice in the story from a City official like Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna who attended the news conference, or even a citizen, to balance the claims made by the family.
District Attorney Carrie Schneider is quoted in the story, but only to clarify that “Officers are not trained to shoot someone in the knee, shoot the gun out of someone’s hand. They’re in a situation where the threat is immediate and imminent.”
However, Schneider went to great lengths to explain how the actions of Lt. Steinke were justified. Including showing still images from a bar surveillance camera and explaining how the shooting itself unfolded in less than two seconds.
Despite being part of team coverage of the news that day, this story was also widely shared on the station’s social media platforms. While it does provide a hyperlink to the story about the announcement, many social media users skim headlines, rather than click links to read further into a story.
As a stand-alone story, this report lacks a presentation of the basic facts of the case and makes no mention of whether the family members were challenged to back up their statements and claims with any facts.
WLUK can do better to serve its viewers by providing equal time to both sides of an issue in reaction stories such as these.