MSNBC Reporter Reticent to Admit New Information Complicates Simplistic Ferguson Shooting Narrative

Despite new details revealed by the police that provide additional context to the Michael Brown shooting, at least one MSNBC reporter seemed to dismiss the new information as largely irrelevant. On the August 15 edition of NewsNation, guest host Alex Witt invited msnbc.com reporter Trymaine Lee to the program. He has been reporting on the ground from Ferguson, Missouri this week.

Witt mentioned the facts surrounding what the police have dubbed a “strong-arm robbery” of a convenience store that supposedly took place about 30 minutes before the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, as confirmed by still shots of the scene. The shots – while not entirely clear – indicate that Michael Brown may have been a suspect. The NewsNation guest host asked Lee how much this complicated things and whether “this fact [might] be something that instills uncertainty within this community which has become calmer overnight?” Lee replied, unconvinced: [MP3 audio here; video below]

There's gonna be absolutely no uncertainty within this community. The people in the community feel that Michael Brown was murdered in cold blood and left like an animal in the streets. Now, if you look back at prior cases, especially the Trayvon Martin case, once you get into court of public opinion each side will try to use whatever they can to sway the public opinion, it may complicate things.

Lee added that some “will want to connect the fact he may have stole a pack of cigarillos that cost a dollar in the store to his characteristic as a person. Whether he was a thug or violent.” Lee continued his commentary by playing judge and jury:

But as the case unfurls, the facts will have to matter, the ballistics evidence will have to matter. And so as we learn more about exactly what happened I think it will be clear, you know, what happened in those moments right before the police officer fired the first shot. That's what matters.

The MSNBC reporter evidently realized his editorializing was over the top, and backtracked a little bit from his statement:

Now, again, I'm not, you know, an investigator or a prosecutor. So we'll let those folks decide what matters. But clearly, what happened in that store and then, you know, 30 minutes or so later, what happened in the streets over here on Canfield Avenue, two completely different circumstances.

The facts in the Michael Brown shooting are complicated at the moment. The information regarding the robbery provides  some context to a situation that remains rather unclear, and it is a rush to judgment to dismiss those facts entirely and claim they aren't relevant.

It is not the job of reporters and journalists to make those conclusions. As Lee ultimately suggested toward the end of his comment, that should be left to the investigators and prosecutors.

MSNBC
NewsNation
August 15, 2014
11:04 a.m. Eastern

TRYMAINE LEE, MSNBC.com reporter: So now with the release of the name of the officer that was involved in this killing, Darren Wilson, a bit of the fog has lifted. People have been wanting transparency in this investigation that is muddled with, is fraught with racial undertones and long history of violence between the police and the community. This is a clear step. And, uh, we’re a far cry from where we were just a few days ago when they were launching tear gas and rubber bullets. But now we're at the next step. For awhile we got away from the focus that brought us here which was the killing of Michael Brown. And this is a clear development in the direction that the investigation is continuing and opening up.

ALEX WITT, guest host: Yeah, okay. Let's talk about that investigation, though, on a local level and a federal level. Apparently federal agents have now met with Brown's family. What do you know about that?

LEE: I just got off the phone with Freeman Bosley, he’s an attorney for the witness that was with Michael Brown when he was killed. He admits that –  he said he told federal officials, he told county officials that Michael Brown did, indeed, take a pack cigarillos, small, little mini-cigars. And that's not a revelation. And the fact that the officer's name was released doesn't tell us much. Of course, the family have been pushing for the release of the name. Again, they want transparency in the investigation. They want to know how their son died and under what circumstances and who was behind the trigger.

WITT: Okay. Hey Trymaine, I want to pick up on what you talked about, this fact that Michael Brown was known to have taken this pack of cigarillos from a store. Tell me what happened there. What is the latest reporting on that?

LEE: Apparently when you look at some of the stills released from the police department, there seems to be a large man in front of a smaller one. The larger one presumably Michael Brown. And that's what the police would allege. And there seems to be some sort of mild confrontation. A hand pressed up against the other man. So the police describe it as a strong-arm robbery. When I talked to the attorney of the witness who was there with Michael Brown when he was killed and before at the store when he took those little cigars,  said there was no strong-arm there. He simply stole the cigarillos. But apparently, according to the stills, something happened. There was some sort of minor interaction – physical interaction – between the two.

WITT: I'm going to actually read from a note that you gave to us here that gives a quote from the attorney Freeman Bosley. It says we need to see that tape, my client did tell us and told the FBI that they went into the store. He told the FBI that he did take cigarillos. He told that to the DOJ and the St. Louis County Police. Trymaine, how much does this complicate things and [do] you think might this fact be something that instills uncertainty within this community which has become calmer overnight?

LEE: There's gonna be absolutely no uncertainty within this community. The people in the community feel that Michael  Brown was murdered in cold blood and left like an animal in the streets. Now, if you look back at prior cases, especially the Trayvon Martin case, once you get into court of public opinion each side will try to use whatever they can to sway the public opinion, it may complicate things. Because some will want to connect the fact he may have stole a pack of cigarillos that cost a dollar in the store to his characteristic as a person. Whether he was a thug or violent. Which could have led to some sort of violent confrontation with the police. But as the case unfurls, the facts will have to matter, the ballistics evidence will have to matter. And so as we learn more about exactly what happened I think it will be clear, you know, what happened in those moments right before the police officer fired the first shot. That's what matters. Now, again, I'm not, you know, an investigator or a prosecutor. So we'll let those folks decide what matters. But clearly, what happened in that store and then, you know, 30 minutes or so later, what happened in the streets over here on Canfield Avenue, two completely different circumstances.

Connor Williams
Connor Williams
Connor Williams is a contributing writer for NewsBusters.