Deranged Assailant or Mentally-Troubled Woman? The Power of the Gatekeeper
Just last Friday, a woman by the name of Michele Robey was fatally shot by police officers at a bus stop outside a CVS on the north side of Chicago. Police were reporting to a 911 call of a woman who was “threatening customers with a weapon and destroying merchandise.” Robey has a history of mental illness which was unbeknownst to the officers at the time. After reportedly failing to stand down and drop the knife she was holding, both officers shot and killed Robey with two hits to the abdomen. She was pronounced dead soon after. NBC Chicago and WGN News took very different approaches on their coverage of the unfortunate incident. The news sources’ usages of such techniques as stacking, quote selection, and diction, shape the reader’s perception of Robey as either a violent, crazed lady or a troubled, mentally-ill woman.
Right off the bat, NBC takes a stance on the event by the diction in their headline. The headline reads “Police Fatally Shoot Knife-Wielding Woman at Bus Stop on North Side.” The phrase “knife-wielding,” whether intentional or not, already portrays Robey as the one to blame. Readers will perceive her as some dangerous savage who was threatening the police. All of this is comes solely from the headline; however, the actual article seems to follow suit. The author stacks the article by putting the very blunt and direct information first, followed shortly by biased quotes and analysis — heavy with diction. For example, one line says “Police found the woman at the bus stop brandishing a knife and making threatening statements toward the officers.” Although seemingly neutral, the author’s use of words like “brandishing” and “threatening” give off a sense of danger and fear to readers. The author also chose to include quotes from Al Nagode, the deputy chief of patrol. Nagode relays that Robey was making “lunging movements” and that the initial tasers “failed to stop her.” Inclusion of quotes from Nagode are obviously biased because of his position in the police force; he most likely does not want to deal with any litigation and wants to maintain a positive name for CPD. Not to mention, his diction makes Robey seem like some sort of unstoppable force. Another quote used is from a witness at the scene. He says, “I heard her say ‘I got a knife, I will cut you, I will cut you, stand back, I will cut either one of you!” Quotes like this shape the readers perception of Robey as a threatening assailant. NBC does an efficient job in their portrayal of Robey as a deranged woman through the mentioned diction, quote selection, and stacking.
On the other hand, WGN News takes a very different approach in their coverage of the incident. Their headline reads, “Woman shot fatally by police near CVS had a history of mental illness, mother says.” Not only did WGN delve into Robey’s history of mental illness, but they also shift the blame to the police through the phrase “shot fatally by police.” By clearly marking the police as the ones to blame for this event, the reader’s perception is already changed. Even without further analysis of her mental illness (still to come), readers will view Robey as probably shot against her own will. WGN also explains the story using words like “allegedly” and “reportedly.” This diction give readers the perception that these things may not all be definite, and that they should be skeptical. This version also stacks the article, putting first the details of the crime, followed instead by more personal details on Robey’s life. This order of stacking gives readers an in-depth look at her life, allowing them to relate to her more and see her as a victim of police brutality. The first quote chosen comes from a friend who lived in the same building as Robey. She says that Robey had been upset about a blow-up with her 20-year-old son, and openly talked about her struggles with mental illness. “Three or four days ago, she came in sat down on the sofa and she was crying nonstop,” she stated. Clearly, Robey was struggling with some personal issues, but this quotes gives readers the perception that Robey may have just been going through a rough patch. The article also includes quotes from her mother (an obviously biased source) describing her career, saying, “[Robey] had a masters in psychology, and once worked to educate families on how to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, and that her life’s mission was to serve others.” Quotes like this from her mother and friend and other biased techniques shape the readers perception of Robey as an intelligent and successful woman who unfortunately lost it all when she began suffering from bipolar disorder.
In conclusion, both new sources took very different approaches when it came to reporting the shooting, and both could have profound effects on the readers’ perceptions of the late Michele Robey. NBC seemed to take the side of the police more than remaining neutral because of the way they portrayed Robey in their article. I felt it was unfair to give a mentally troubled woman such a bad rep and to depict her as crazed and dangerous to the public. Reportings like this could possible lead to further violent altercations between citizens and the police, and could also narcotize the public to rather serious situations such as this one. On the contrary, I believe WGN did a much better job reporting the incident. They were able to remain neutral in the matter, while also providing in depth information on the victim’s personal life and her history of mental illness. The mentally disabled are often given the short end of the stick in modern day media and news, and I think it is important that readers receive the full story behind events like this so that they are properly informed. WGN’s reporting could possibly positively affect readers by showing them that there is a lot more to a person than what appears on the surface, and to fight against ignorant police shootings. If anything can be taken away from these articles, it is the influential power that the gatekeeper has in shaping readers’ minds.