The journalism nonprofit Poynter takes a look at the decision by Austin Kellerman, news director at KARK/Fox16 News, not to air coverage of the scattering of Nazis who rallied on the Capitol steps earlier this month.
The piece, by Al Tompkins, describes an internal debate within the television newsroom in the weeks before the rally, where reporters were pitching the story, about whether to cover the planned event by the so-called National Socialist Movement. News outlets, including the Arkansas Times, were bombarded with press releases urging coverage of the rally.
Kellerman decided to pass:
[I]t was people who are not local protesting an issue that is not of local importance. You feel like they are coming to Little Rock because people will shove cameras in their face and maybe national news will pick it up if there is an incident.
… What if nobody covered them and nothing happened and it didn’t make national news and no one cared?
The station didn’t ignore it altogether — the fact that the rally was going to happen was mentioned briefly a week and half before the event, at which point the station announced it wouldn’t be covered further unless something newsworthy happen. The station directed viewers to a letter from Kellerman online about its reasoning behind the decision. On the day of the event, the station sent a reporter and two photographers, but didn’t put any coverage on the air.
Kellerman wasn’t alone in being skeptical of giving oxygen to a small band of History Channel cosplayers desperate for attention — local coverage of the dozen or so neo-Nazis and their “rally” was generally sparse, and only one local television station aired cove. The brief mention on the Arkansas Blog stated, “it’s no Charlottesville. What if they gave a rally and nobody came at all?”
Not to say that there was nothing at all to cover: The heavy law enforcement presence — more than 200 city, county, state officers, including rooftop snipers; the costs associated with security and closing off traffic around the Capitol; the large gathering of counter-protestors; the potentially volatile situation of demonstrators with guns. Longtime local reporter Steve Barnes critiqued the decisions of some local news editors to ignore the event altogether, arguing among other things that the counter-protestors had important stories to tell.
The Poynter piece is an interesting behind-the-scenes look at how these questions play out in a television newsroom. “Yes, it was tempting on a slow news Saturday to air something,” Tompkins writes. “Guys parading around in Nazi uniforms is inflammatory video that would spread online.” But Kellerman, in a letter to viewers, argued for a different approach: “Let’s give them silence. Arkansas is better than this.”
On the KARK website, Kellerman explained to viewers prior to the rally why the station was not planning to cover it unless something newsworthy happened:
Nazis coming to town? You may be wondering why you haven’t heard much about it on the news.
Well, here’s why…
The group occasionally holds rallies across the country with one goal in mind: attention.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group is “notable for its violent anti-Jewish rhetoric, its racist views and its policy allowing members of other racist groups to join NSM while remaining members of other groups. Until 2007, NSM members protested in full Nazi uniforms.”
In short: they’re a hate group.
In most cases, the people involved in the protest likely won’t be from here. They’ll be coming in to town hoping local cameras capture their demonstration that’s then shared across the country.
With everything that just happened in Pittsburgh, this is the last thing we need in our country – let alone our state.
Quite frankly, I’m not willing to give them our attention. There are far too many important issues in our communities that need to be covered.
This doesn’t deserve our time.
And here’s an excerpt from Barnes, who was on the scene:
I was assigned by an out-of-state news organization to monitor the proceedings, and to not file a story in the absence of conflict, rather in line with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s standard.
No violence having presented, I would have focused, as now, on the people on the other side of the police line, the men and women, young and old, black and white and Asian and Latino, Protestant and Catholic and Jew, who came to the Capitol representing other values.
For instance, Janna, a 34 year-old who, fearful of retribution, asked that her last name not be printed. “I’m not going to let Nazis come to my state and not show up to tell them they’re not welcome,” she said. “To be silent is to take a side.” The wrong one, she made clear.
And here was Walter Riddick, 62, attorney and veteran of almost three decades in uniform, whose forebears include a governor of Arkansas (Henry Rector) who supported “states’ rights” in 1860, and an assistant U.S. Attorney (his namesake father) who, a century later, represented federal supremacy during the Central High desegregation crisis.
Neuropathy has Walter Riddick in a wheelchair these days but he came anyway, blanketed against the cold, because “these people” — pointing to the Black Shirts — “represent a significant part of what I spent a lifetime working against.”
Riddick’s “chauffeur” was Alan Malcolm, 64, who brought not only his friend but a sepia portrait of his father, in his World War II Army uniform. “He fought those b———-,” Malcolm said. Thus he came “on my father’s behalf and my own.”
On behalf of her grandchildren came the decidedly feisty Robin Wilson, 65, who said she grew up with a segregationist father in a house in the shadow of Central High, National Guardsmen patrolling her street in the toxic days of 1957.
“These people have no clue or they wouldn’t preach the rhetoric of hatred they do,” she said of the NSM. Her children’s children were being raised to love people, she added, no matter who those people loved, how they worshipped, from where they came or the color of their skin.