Maryland State Police trooper shoots and kills 16-year-old in Leonardtown

NBC News reports that a 16-year-old was shot dead by a Maryland State Police trooper in Leonardtown after "displaying" a knife and a pellet gun.

A witness reported seeing the subject in a shooting stance with a gun pointed at the trooper, Jones said. The trooper shot and wounded the subject. Another witness said the subject pulled out a knife and tried to get up, Jones said. The trooper ordered him to drop the knife, then fired again. Peyton Ham, 16, was taken to MedStar St. Mary's Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Whatever the circumstances of this killing, whatever justification might be presented due to the Airsoft gun (which reports claim was visually indistinguishable from a handgun), the media is reporting this very badly. I had to go looking for a headline that was even clear about what happened. Most items blithely repeated the confusing, exonerative language that police spokespeople wanted them to use. Check out this one from ABC News:

The Associated Press has explicitly told its outlets to stop using the evasive and exonerative language of police press releases. In this case, ABC News packs every form of it into a single sentence.

It poses the Maryland State Police as "investigating" when it was in fact one of their troopers who shot and killed a child. It describes the shooting as "trooper-involved", a passive convolution that conceals the fact the trooper fired the shots and suggests the possibility the trooper was merely present or even a victim. And "ended in the death" as a euphemism for "killed" obscures the cause of the death and the circumstances: shot dead by the trooper.

This happens, typically, because reporters get too cosy with their sources at the cop shop, and would rather service these people (usually press officers whose job it is to send out press releases and answer questions) than offend them or risk privileged access. There's also a younger generation of underschooled but overbusy journos who simply don't know any better. Less individually malign, more vulnerable to manipulation.