NBC Today Anchor and MSNBC Host Tweets Directive To Use “Protests” Rather Than “Riots” In Reporting [Updated]


A police station in Minneapolis was torched last night as looting and rioting continued in that city. The escalating violence and looting has magnified controversies over how networks are describing the scenes.  Earlier, Craig Melvin, an MSNBC host and co-anchor of “Today,” shed some light as to how his network is framing its reporting. Melvin tweeted a “guide” that the images “on the ground” are not to be described as rioting but rather “protests.”  That framing has been used on other networks, including some segments where the reporting seems bizarrely out of sync with the scenes in the background. Update: CNN appears to be drawing a distinction in an even more curious way.

On Thursday morning, Melvin tweeted “This will guide our reporting in MN. ‘While the situation on the ground in Minneapolis is fluid, and there has been violence, it is most accurate at this time to describe what is happening there as ‘protests’ — not riots.'” It is not clear where that “guide” originated but Melvin is quoted for a source.

Most television journalists from NBC to CBS to ABC to BBC to Fox have done excellent jobs in stressing the understandable outrage over the death of George Floyd, which is currently under investigation not just by local prosecutors but the Justice Department. Indeed, many of these reporters have shown considerable bravery in going into very volatile and violent scenes to report on the protests.

However, the looting and destruction is also a major part of the story as is the storming of a police station and burning it.  The effort to avoid referring to the rioting raises questions about the editorialization or shaping of the news.  There are not a lot of ways to refer the looting and burning of businesses like the Target.  

In the meantime, MSNBC journalist Ali Velshi stood in front of burning buildings but reported “For most of the day, today, it looked a lot calmer than yesterday looked,. And that’s what happened yesterday. It picked up later in the evening. The crowds gathered here and the standoff with the police looked very different last night.”  He added:

“I want to be clear on how I characterize this. This is mostly a protest. It is not, generally speaking, unruly but fires have been started and this crowd is relishing that. There is a deep sense of grievance and complaint here, and that is the thing. That when you discount people who are doing things to public property that they shouldn’t be doing, it does have to be understood that this city has got, for the last several years, an issue with police, and it’s got a real sense of the deep sense of grievance of inequality.”

The concern over semantics in a story involving obvious rioting, looting, and arson undermines the reporting overall. There are frankly only a few words to describe rioting.  It reminds me of my litigation representing members of Congress seeking to stop the undeclared war in Libya during the Obama Administration. The Administration argued in court that attacking the capitol and military force in Libya was not a “war” but a “kinetic action.”

It would be hard to come up with similar alternatives for these scenes.  For example, “arson” could be called “combustive demonstrations” but it does not really convey the scene. Likewise, “looting” could be referred to as “unpurchased advocating” but it does not capture the scene of men breaking open cash registers with hammers or pictures of stores being picked clean of everything from big screen televisions to garden tools.

What is bizarre is that there is no need to try to sanitize or shape the story. There is a legitimate outrage over this death.  There are many peaceful protests and most protesters are not looters or arsonists.  However, there was obviously a riot unfolding and the media should be focused on reporting on scene rather than shaping it in a more positive light. Viewers can understand that there will always be an element within protests that will turn to violent or criminal means.

The men with the hammers stealing cash are not protesters. They are looters.  The people storming and torching a police station are not protesters. They are rioters.  That seems a lot easier than tweeting out speech guidelines.  It does not take away from the terrible underlying story of Floyd’s death or the need for action on that case. It does not belittle the reason for the peaceful protests or the anger of many in the city. It is just fair reporting on what is occurring at these scenes.

Update:  CNN this morning seemed to make the same distinction in dealing with President Trump’s latest controversial tweet.  The anchors condemned Trump for “calling protesters ‘thugs.'” While many criticized the tweet (as I did), Trump was referring to people looting and rioting, not protesters. Notably, CNN distinguished between protesters and looters on the portion of the tweet dealing with shootings.  Thus, it suggested that a single short tweet was calling all protesters “thugs” but then switched into only calling for the shooting of looters.  The tweet however clearly refers to the looting and rioting:

“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you”

The “dishonoring” obviously refers to the violence.  Yet CNN parsed the tweet to make the first sentence refer to all protesters and then acknowledged that the shooting line that followed refers to looters. How did the subject change mid tweet?


219 thoughts on “NBC Today Anchor and MSNBC Host Tweets Directive To Use “Protests” Rather Than “Riots” In Reporting [Updated]”

    1. Van Jones said on CNN that black men have more to fear from white female Hillary supporters than the KKK. So either Van is a gay histrionic prima donna like Christian Cooper, or America’s race problems are officially over! 🧚🏿‍♂️

    1. Surprised you? Look at the black haters commenting on the assassination earlier this month of an elderly white couple visiting the grave of their son in a Delaware veterans’ cemetery by Sheldon Francis, a 29 y/o black male using a hunting rifle. Comments such as, “ they’re 85 years old, almost dead anyway;” “another two crackers crumbled;” etc., etc. Black violence and hated has no bounds. And of course, that fake news absolutely silent when it comes to blacks stalking and murdering whites.

  1. There are frankly only a few words to describe someone who gain focuses on media people nobody has heard of or follows when the president is at the same time threatening to shoot Americans and applauding a comment that the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat. JT is apparently as morally bankrupt as his leader and should just stay away from the keyboard .

    1. “Don’t ever let a good crisis go to waste”. It’s always about Trump. Obama lost over 1,100 seats while he was president because of bad policy and idiots like you. ‘Liberalism is a mental disorder!” See you in November clown!

    2. If JT is morally bankrupt, why do you follow his blog? Surely there are more wholesome sources out there for you.

    3. Arson is a forcible felony. It’s lawful for a citizen or the police to stop a forcible felony with lethal force. That’s the law

      Are we a nation of laws anymore or just one mob versus another?

      Looting and riot and arson are not protest they are crimes.

  2. ” Indeed, many of these reporters have shown considerable bravery in going into very volatile and violent scenes to report on the protests. ”

    Well this is wrong. The ground pound crew knows the msm is on their side. Now if you’re talking about FoxNews, or InfoWars, then you have a valid point. Newsmax would probably be murdered. If there are any maga hat wearers they are braver than everyone else present. We know why.

  3. To call what is happening in Minneapolis a “protest” is yet another example of the MSM creating a narrative that has no relationship to the truth. The criminals who broke into the stores and hauled off their merchandise and then set some of the stores on fire are thanking their lucky stars that George Floyd was killed because it gave them an excuse to be the criminals that they are with impunity.

    1. It’s no different than the routine use of language used by police to justify their tyranny and theft of tax payer dollars.

  4. Love “combustive demonstration.”

    Agreed on this one, Professor. Rioting is rioting. We’ve got a police murder of another black man in Mineapolis. Corresponding outrage of the public over it. And the resultant outrage manifested. Cause and effect. Totally understandable. No need to sanitize language over it.

  5. Agreed with this one, Professor. Rioting is rioting. No need to dance around the outrage that sprung from this latest example of Mineapolis police crossing the line. In strictly causitive terms we’ve got a police murder of a guy suspected of forging a $20 check, outrage from the public over it because Mineapolis police have a way of killing black men, and the outcome of such outrage >> rioting. All pieces in the equation are roughly equal. And understandable. No need to brush up the language surrounding it.

    Although I do like the term “combustive demonstration.”

  6. We went to the animal fair. The wolves and beasts were there. The old baboon, by the light of the moon, was combing his Auburn hair. The monkey he got drunk. And fell on the elephants trunk. The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees, and that was the end of the Monk, the Monk, the Monk.

    The rioters need. To be strangled.

  7. Police forces, their members and their unions are masters of propaganda and bending the truth. I’m not surprised that the other side is using the same tactics.

  8. The vast majority of Americans
    Are not stupid.
    Unfortunately we have Morons
    Who think the can manipulate their viewers
    Thankfully they have a declining viewership.
    A riot is a riot.
    A protest is a protest.
    There can be no confusion in their description.

  9. Paul, I thought it was in our constitution that we had the right to trash our cities and towns. Isn’t this from some old English law or something? I mean, how far have our rights eroded that we can’t set a police precinct on fire? I’m going to contact my congressman.

  10. The obfuscations of both the press and the rioters/looters are no longer acceptable at face value. The left has spent its last dime attempting to frame a ‘fundamental transformation’ of this nation and the push back is now going to be painful and costly. You reap what you sow and the left has sown discontent and anticipated grievance restitution where little was due but now they have lost control of their tools.

    1. And that’s regardless of age, color, national origin, citizen status, physical or mental disability, race, religion, creed, gender,…

      1. Didn’t The NY Times yesterday call white women “terrorists” for calling the police on black men? Didn’t Van Jones repeat that allegation last night by saying that “white women are more dangerous than the KKK?” Personally, I’ve never felt threatened by white women, so I must be an anomaly. I therefore have to thank the left wing nuts for opening my eyes. Forget the police, forget the rioters; this is all the fault of those damned WHITE SUBURBAN MOMS!!

  11. I agree with NBC. These fine American protesters are just expressing their 1st ammnendment rights. They should be applauded. After all this is what this country is all about.

  12. As someone from MN said, I would not want to be a Minneapolis cop right now. However, both the left and the right think the death is wrong and needs investigation. It is being investigated. The looting is just licensed stealing.

    1. I wouldn’t want to be a Minneapolis cop EVER. Once they ran and let their station house be burned to the ground, they lost all respect. Can you imagine LAPD doing that? Not a chance!

  13. This is the fact: government and by extension the police only work until the governed refuse to be any longer. Lawmakers better get wise to this. Between the overt militarization of the police, generalized abuse of the citizenry, and outright political corruption, citizens are reaching the end of their patience. Tonight Minneapolis burns the police station, officials swinging from the lampposts is not a stretch. The officials better smarten up.

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