Last week LAPD officer William Jones Jr. barged past his fellow cops and shot dead a man who had attacked and injured another patron at a North Hollywood department store. Firing his rifle into the uncleared building, still inhabited by terrified shoppers, Jones also killed Valentina Orellana Peralta, a young teenager trying on clothes with her mom.
The New York Times, though, would like you to not think of it quite like this. It declares in its headline—"Officer Whose Bullet Killed a 14-Year-Old Girl Wanted to 'Change' the Police"—that the bullet, not Jones, killed the child. And in a story sourced to police, police unions and an "expert" the Times fails to disclose is himself a retired police officer, it absurdly casts the killer as a progressive victim of circumstance and ignores significant evidence to the contrary.
If anything, we're told, it's strange that people are so upset.
Mr. Jones, who was on paid administrative leave and declined to discuss the episode, has a visible "heaviness on him," his lawyer, Leslie Wilcox, said in an interview. She said he had never before been disciplined for a police shooting, and was surprised by the level of public anger directed at him, "as if Valentina's death was intentional, or reckless on his part, which it was neither."
But the gun was intentionally fired, by him, and it was recklessly aimed. We know this because of the child who—to borrow the tortured language of the Times' preferred sources—became deceased at that time.
There are two basic theories of why articles like this go up. The first theory goes something like this: big-media journos form an aloof middle-class floating world whose affinity with authorities makes exonerative reportage of its failures inevitable. The second theory goes like this: journos trade the tone and focus of coverage for access and exclusive information.
For me, the NYT so exemplifies the first theory that it became a cliché. The second theory describes others: the enthusiast press, the world of games reviews, travel junkets, biz-beat hype, and so on.
This article is so outright exonerative of the killer, though, so one-sided in its dependence on sources organized around the killer, that it's hard not to think something similar is going on. It isn't even both-sidesing it. It's just straight-up telling you this guy was Jesus in jackboots.
The headline's use of a police PR trick—the self-firing bullet—is especially grisly. Passive and tangled language like this is commonplace in small-town newspapers and local TV affiliates which really do just run with what cops send them.
The New York Times, though, has its own argot, a language so arch as to verge on archaism, yet always a masterpiece of concise journalistic English. For it to so crudely mangle a headline with copthink suggests someone did not feel free to write as usual. The officer is exonerated not only of any criminal or moral wrongdoing, of negligence, but even of taking the action that killed the girl. It poses his experience as the enduring tragedy of the day.
This isn't to suggest some specific corrupt or unethical act. Nonetheless, the work of pleasing the police has taken the meat off the bones at the New York Times. Valentina Orellana Peralta was 14 years old.