Cops kill the 15-year-old kidnapping victim they were supposed to be rescuing

San Bernardino Sheriffs Department had an unusual reason for closing an Amber Alert this week: they shot dead the 15-year-old kidnapping victim when she ran toward them. Beyond this it remains difficult to describe what happened, because most media glibly repeat only the vague, self-exonerating things the police are telling them to write: specifically that the girl was wearing "tactical gear" and that "evidence" suggests she was responsible for her own killing.

After police say Anthony Graziano shot his estranged wife in Southern California on Monday morning, an Amber Alert was blasted out saying he was on the run with his 15-year-old daughter, Savannah. The next morning, someone spotted his Nissan pickup and notified authorities, leading to a vehicle chase that officials say began and ended with gunfire. Graziano was killed in the firefight. Also killed was a passenger who emerged from Graziano's vehicle in "tactical gear" and ran toward the officers, deputies say.

The New York Times's headline (echoed by the Washington Post's) states she was "Killed in Shootout with Authorities", a classic journalistic tiptoe onto Schrodinger's limb, implying without asserting that she fired at officers herself—a claim made more exactly, later, by the Sheriff's Department. The question "was the girl holding a gun when police killed her?" is among the questions not being asked, unfortunately, until the police are in a comfortable place to answer it.

Why do media do this? All the big-picture frames of authoritarianism, fascism and capitalism and so on miss a simple truth: local media rely on local government and police for timely content, and national media swipe it.