Spinning Away from Government Accountability
The handling of the killing of Woody in the press reveals both a disturbing tendency to focus on the victim of a deadly police assault rather than on its perpetrators, and to portray the victim in a way makes his killing appear more justified or comprehensible than the facts support. Thus we have seen headlines such as: "Brattleboro police kill an intruder who had a knife"; but no headlines along the lines of: "Police execute asylum seeker in a church for civil disobedience", which gives a far more complete picture of the event. Many other print articles have used the misleading phrases such as "knife wielding man", belied by the fact that Woody threatened only himself, and did so only in the context of his asylum plea.
Even more egregious examples of such misleading casting of the story have appeared in the broadcast media. The 6 P.M. Vermont Channel 3 News ran a leader to a story about the killing stating:
|One man is dead following a shooting at a church in West Brattleboro. The man was gunned down by police after he pulled a knife on the congregation.|
The actual story is fairly accurate about when Woody produced the knife and in which direction he pointed it (toward himself), but contains the following introductory remark:
|That's where Sunday's Service -- attended by about seventy people -- was disrupted by a knife-wielding man.|
which also parrots a remark by church president Charles Butterfield (who made the 911 call to the authorities whom Woody feared would kill him) describing Woody as "deranged". In another example, a talk show host on a program on WAMC asked the question:
|So nobody knows why he would go to the Unitarian church and threaten the congregation with a knife?|
During that program, the premise that he threatened the congregation was never challenged.
The Valley Advocate ran a series of articles in which the second ran with a front-page headline "Madman or Martyr", with the subheading "Robert Woodward's friends want to know what -- or whom -- he was running from". But only supports the Madman label with some quotes from friends that are taken out of context. The article itself does not paint Woody as a madman.
Here is a partial list of distortions or misrepresentations of fact found in the media.
- A Brattleboro Reformer article describes Woody as "the alleged assailant", even though none of the eyewitnesses have stated that woody attacked or attempted to attack anyone.
- A Rutland Herald article in which Woody is described as an "armed intruder", even though he did not take out his knife until several minutes after he entered the church, and then only pointed at himself.