WBBM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Chicago, has come under fire in recent days for broadcasting an interview with a four-year-old boy, and deliberately taking his quote out of context to completely pervert its meaning.
The story aired on June 30, as part of a package about overnight violence around the city.
(Scroll down to watch the distorted interview.)
It first describes the shooting death of 16-year-old Juan Batista, then reports on two other teens who were shot but not killed in the city's Park Manor neighborhood on the South Side.
"Kids on the street as young as four were there to see it all unfold, and had disturbing reactions," then-anchor Steve Bartelstein said, leading into video of an interview with the four-year-old boy.
When asked, "What are you going to do when you get older?" the boy responds: “I’m going to have me a gun!”
"That is very scary indeed," Bartelstein adds.
Only problem is, CBS edited out the rest of what the young child said.
According to video obtained by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, the full interview went like this:
Reporter: “Boy, you ain’t scared of nothing! Damn! When you get older are you going to stay away from all these guns?”
Reporter: “No? What are you going to do when you get older?”
Boy: “I’m going to have me a gun!”
Reporter” “You are! Why do you want to do that?”
Boy: “I'm going to be the police!” (emphasis added)
Observers say this is clearly a violation of journalistic ethics. “This decision reveals a lack of understanding of the very basic tenets of journalism,” Hagit Limor, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, told the Maynard Institute.
According to UNICEF's guidelines about interviewing children, reporters "have a responsibility to portray children fairly," and there is doubt as to whether such a young child should even be identified on television in the first place. Especially given that he was apparently witness to a violent crime, both the trauma that he suffered and the possibility of endangering his safety might have been reason enough to at least obscure his identity.
Beyond the ethical lapse, however, some argue that the story does even worse in its portrayal of the African-American community. “Airing a video of the boy saying he wanted a gun that edits out the context simply reinforces stereotypes that African American males are violent, even preschoolers,” said Dori J. Maynard, the Institute's president.
WBBM communications director Shawnelle Richie issued a statement on the matter, which was published by the local-news blog TVSpy:
We accept responsibility for the mistakes that were made, both in the reporting and editing of the story. The video of the child should not have aired. As soon as news management identified the problem, they took immediate steps to ensure that the video would not air in subsequent newscasts. In addition, we have followed up with our employees to make sure that we all have learned from the mistakes that were made.
Watch the video (full interview at the end):