At Least Seven AP Reporters Violated Their Own Stylebook in Describing 18 Year-Old Michael Brown As a 'Teen'

Kudos to Ed Driscoll at PJ Media, Eddie Scarry at Mediaite, and likely others in pointing out that the Associated Press has frequently violated its own stylebook in describing Michael Brown, the 18 year-old who was fatally shot in a scuffle with police in Ferguson, Missouri, as a "teen" or "teenager."

The AP's latest stylebook, in sync with the one I have from over a decade ago, states that reports should (italics is theirs) “use man or woman for individuals 18 and older." The violations have been pervasive, and have likely occurred since Brown died on August 9. Let's start with the specifics at Mediaite (most bolds are mine; links are in original):


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“Don’t know’ if Missouri teen shot with hands up,” reads one AP headline from Monday. “County autopsy: Unarmed teen shot 6 to 8 times,” reads another.

And an excerpt from yet another AP story, emphasis added: “Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon lifted a curfew but ordered the National Guard to step in to help restore order. Holder over the weekend ordered a federal medical examiner to perform a third autopsy on the teenager, Michael Brown.”

In an update, Mediaite's Scarry noted that AP had fixed two out of three of the items he noted:

Two of the AP stories referenced in this post were modified after this post published. One report changed the word "teen" in its headline to call Brown by his last name. The second removed the word “teen” from the body text and put “man” in its please. Neither report has an update on them with a reason for the alteration. Other reports still refer to Brown as a “teen.” We’ve once again requested comment from AP spokesman Paul Colford, who one other media reporter told us is “usually prompt” at returning media requests.

Of the 15 items returned in a 1:45 p.m. EDT search at the AP's national web site on "Michael Brown teen" (not in quotes), eleven of them still describe Brown as a "teen" and not a "man":

August 12 — "The suburb of 21,000 has been on edge since Michael Brown, 18, and another teenager were confronted by an officer Saturday near Brown's apartment. Police say one of the teens shoved the officer back into his car and a struggle ensued. Brown was struck by several bullets after emerging from the car."

August 14 — "He (Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson) has faced criticism for not releasing the name of the officer who shot Brown and for not discussing circumstances surrounding the teen's death."

August 14 — "Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said Thursday that the death of an unarmed teenager who was shot by a police officer in a St. Louis suburb highlights the need for the legislation, which has been in the works for months."

August 15 — "Thousands of people across the country attended protest vigils Thursday for an unarmed black Missouri teenager fatally shot by a white police officer and other victims who organizers say died as a result of police brutality."

August 15 — "President Barack Obama has called for peace and calm in Ferguson, Missouri, the St. Louis suburb where an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot over the weekend by a white police officer."

August 15 — The ugly clashes between police and protesters in this St. Louis suburb fueled a torrent of criticism and raised questions about whether the officers' tactics were inflaming the same violence they aimed to suppress after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.

August 15 — "Now the president is again wading into a racially charged matter that has riveted the nation, this time in Ferguson, Missouri, the St. Louis suburb where an unarmed black teen was shot and killed by a white police officer."

August 16 — "Thomas Jackson, the snowy haired leader of the Ferguson Police Department, has been the public face of the agency at the center of the violent protests over a white police officer's killing of an unarmed black teenager."

August 16 — "But when it comes to keeping the peace in the St. Louis suburb where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teen, (Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron) Johnson knows his neighbors' opinions are what matter most."

August 17 — "Protesters who have for days lined a busy suburban St. Louis street not far from the place where a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager have walked from nearby apartments, driven from neighboring communities and flown in from states hundreds of miles away."

August 18, 9:08 p.m. (i.e., 17 hours ago, and 4 hours after Scarry's post appeared) — "Dr. Michael Baden, a pathologist hired by Michael Brown's family, says the Missouri teen was shot at least six times by police."

The most recent few of the 15 stories seen did not identify Brown as a teen. One of them refers to Brown as "the unarmed black 18-year-old" without saying there or anywhere else in the article whether he was a man or woman, which still technically violates the stylebook.

Michael Brown died on August 9, ten days ago.

Despite the two changes cited by Scarry, it certainly doesn't look like the AP is in any hurry to clean up most of its first draft of history.

The following AP reporters' bylines appear in one or more of the stories just identified: Jim Salter, David A. Lieb, Jim Suhr, Michael R. Sisak, Sharon Cohen, Alan Scher Zagier, and Julie Pace.

So at least seven AP reporters from several different bureaus — there may be more than seven, but their earlier stories may have been replaced by revisions — all managed to violate their employer's equivalent of the Bible for days on end, likely going all the way back to August 9, and no editor or colleague ever said a word?

Excuse me for having a hard time believing that calling Michael Brown a "teen" in direct violation of the wire service's own stylebook is an accident — and for believing it likely that calling Brown a "teen" was, until the wire service got caught, agenda-driven.

Their ten days of violations have successfully planted the "teenage" meme in most news consumers' minds, i.e., mission accomplished.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.