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?


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

    1. It’s goofy but overall it looks like a setup. Worse yet, the CNN host in their adjoined link is asking who called the shot. Nobody knows. That was lousy reporting.

    2. It slipped out in the coverage they were asked to move and they didn’t move.

    3. If NBC and MSNBC can mislabel
      themselves news organizations I guess they can call rioters protesters

    1. Squeeky:

      Stop with all your facts. You’re ruining the race war narrative of the Left. We don’t need no stinking trials. We go right on our side.

    2. Squeeky – A CNN reporter and camera crew were arrested in Minneapolis yesterday.

      1. Knowing CNN they probably set it up for the publicity. I would have preferred tear gas.

        1. Yes it is jinky. I believe after watching it and the concurrent cnn vid with that homely blond they’ve had for a long time, they stayed in the STREET, when they were told to be on the corner (to their right in the vids, you can see it in the one with the homely blond anchor.)
          The on the ground leads claims they were on the corner, but they weren’t. That immediately indicated to me what they were told vs what they did. The excuse would be “the corned, it’s right there!” (he points 12 feet away)

          Now, I also wouldn’t put it past it all being a setup. The upper management got bored, needed a new angle, and they agreed the cnn quad crew would be held for an hour. The angle is a lone white reporter a block away was left alone.

          I don’t know that, but who knows nowadays after 3 years of muh Russia. Their little stunt would only take a few people in command to watch and giggle as it went down. On the other hand it easily could have been Mr. bigshot was “on the corner” ( they were in the street, not the middle of it but not within step distance of the sidewalk/corner) – so he was going to push the envelope a bit to show the press has power too. The shot looked better from in the street, staring at the 50 state police phalanx staring back at them lined across the street 45 feet away. It actually looked goofy, but hey, if you’re a legend in your own mind…

  1. “The effort to avoid referring to the rioting raises questions about the editorialization or shaping of the news.” Yes, This has been going on at every level on every issue. Obama good. Trump bad. That is all you nee to know. I am not defending Trump. It just gets old when everything is colored one way. It is also why there is no light to unity moving forward. The dishonesty is breathtaking. Just look at the way Prof. Turley is treated for providing legal opinions. It says it all

  2. As a Vietnam man veteran I am accustomed to government bullsh$$ We can judge this for ourselves

  3. We have the video tape. We have facial recognition software. But don’t hold your breath waiting for any of the looters to be prosecuted.

  4. I am not even sure the guy was killed by the cop. I am awaiting a little thingy called an AUTOPSY.

    I think people are seeing the knee on the neck and assuming that killed him. It may have, or it may not have. No one knows how much weight was being applied, and I think it is the optics that is controlling the narrative at this point.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. Yes, presumption of innocence and due process. Now, if Joe Citizen was captured on video doing the exact same thing, do you believe they would remain free from arrest pending an autopsy? Imagine if the victim was a police officer and Joe, with others were making a citizen’s arrest on this officer who had a history of abuse under the color of authority; would Joe and the others remain free pending an autopsy?

      1. No. I don’t. Because in your scenario the people would not be cops. So that is an unrealistic hypothetical. Let’s change it up a little! Two people in a car are driving at speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour chasing 2 people in another car. Should the chasers be arrested?

        Not if they’re cops in lawful pursuit of alleged criminals. Same here. Floyd was under arrest. The cop had him restrained. No one knows how much pressure was being applied to Floyd’s neck. Did it kill him? I don’t know. Should the cops be arrested? Not until there is an autopsy and an investigation which shows how Floyd died.

        My GUESS is Floyd had a heart attack from whatever drugs (probably meth) he was on. But that is only a GUESS.

        Squeeky Fromm
        Girl Reporter

        1. Because in your scenario the people would not be cops. So that is an unrealistic hypothetical.

          I disagree. When we as citizens disable our policing (security) rights to the state, we still retain the natural right to enable them when the state abuses the power we gave them. Wearing a badge should never be considered a shield from accountability for abuse of power.

          1. But here, you DO NOT KNOW that Chauvin abused his power. So to simply say that if some random citizen did this then they would be arrested – is a non sequitar.

            Squeeky Fromm
            Girl Reporter

            1. Anyone with eyes and a brain knows he is at least chargeable with manslaughter, at a minimum.

                1. The officer held Floyd in that position for 8 minutes while he begged that he couldn’t breath and literally expired there. He is responsible for not checking him, letting him up, doing whatever on expects trained and experienced cops are supposed to do when someone is in obvious distress. If he chocked to death it’s murder. If he held him down and refused care, that is manslaughter, at a minimum.

                  1. PS So far all video evidence – and there is a lot – shows Floyd did not resist arrest, and therefore the behavior of the cop was excessive if not murderous.

                    1. Is there a video that shows how Floyd ended up on the pavement? I’ve only seen the two: he’s being passively led away from a wall; he’s on the ground with the cop on top of his neck. Is there something more that shows how Floyd went from being vertical to being on the ground with a different cop now on top of him?

                    2. Don, I have not seen that one if it exists. The one where he is being led away from the wall has an early part where he is being questioned in the car, though you cant see him and then being led from the car to the sidewalk to sit down. No obvious signs of resisting in that segment either.

                  2. OH, you are right! Let me call Minnesota and tell them to stop the AUTOPSY. Because there is no need to carve Floyd up and see what his innards have to say!

                    Thank you sooo much for saving Minnesota the AUTOPSY cost! Maybe they can apply that money to rebuilding The Third Precinct building the black savages burned down.

                    Squeeky Fromm
                    Girl Reporter

                    1. Squeaky, police chiefs around the country are literally saying the cop committed murder. Even THEY know from seeing it that it was an abuse of power and serious dereliction of duty.

                      There was absolutely no reason to put his knee on his neck while already being handcuffed. None. All an autopsy will point out is that he died of asphyxiation from being in the position he was. Police procedures themselves point out this can be dangerous because it can kill a person.

                    2. Hey Svelaz, the guv was black. Sqeaky and her sidekick Cindy think that means he deserved it. They both claim to have been Democrats and they probably were when Lester Maddox was.

                    3. Svelaz:

                      If the police chiefs all around the country say it is what happened, then the AUTOPSY will show it. But, I am still going to wait for the AUTOPSY.

                      There was some reason why they called for an ambulance PRIOR to Floyd being on the ground.

                      But it is a Free Country, and if you want to base your decision on something other than an AUTOPSY, then go ahead.

                      But I am the cautious and reasonable type, and I want to see an AUTOPSY before I accuse them of anything.

                      Squeeky Fromm
                      Girl Reporter

                    4. Squeeky – there is a tape that hasn’t been released that shows he peed his pants twice. Once voluntarily and once when he died. If you listen to the full 8 minute tape, you can pick that up.

                    5. But I am the cautious and reasonable type, and I want to see an AUTOPSY before I accuse them of anything.

                      Squeeky, I rarely disagree with you. In this specific case however, I believe you’re being overly-cautious and unreasonable. Yes, the autopsy will provide the cause of death. Yes, a full investigation should be conducted and justice served. Yes, the officers involved in this incident should be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

                      What does the evidence available tell us about George Floyd’s presumption of innocence? He was being arrested on suspicion of what, trying to pass a phony $20 bill. He was put in handcuffs and we haven’t yet seen evidence of resistance or what led to him being restrained on the ground. We have seen evidence that multiple officers were restraining him on the ground, with his hand’s cuffed behind his back and with one officer applying force on his neck. The video also shows that officer with his right leg moving freely, implying his weight was predominantly on the leg applying pressure to Floyd’s neck. That officer was not struggling to hold Floyd down as Floyd lay defenseless and complaining he could not breathe. Floyd’s presumption of innocence was clearly denied. Nothing was reasonable about the use of force in this situation. No autopsy result will justify the actions of these officers once the suspect was restrained. Justice would begin to be served by at least arresting the officer on suspicion of anything.

                    6. PaulCS,

                      I suspect that there are a lot of unreleased tapes, including the ones showing why there had to be four police officers restraining Floyd at one time.

                      Which is what makes me suspect METH, or maybe some PCP in the picture.

                      But, like with Trayvon Martin, first you get the cute little 8 year old pictures, and then finally somebody drags out the ones with him acting all gangsta.

                      Or, the Gentle Giant with his hands up saying “Don’t shoot, pleeeease!” Then you get the ones of him robbing the store and pushing the clerk around.

                      Sooo, I think there is plenty of precedent here for waiting for the evidence – all of it – including an AUTOPSY.

                      Time will tell.

                      Squeeky Fromm
                      Girl Reporter

              1. the control position with the knee seemed excessive to me. I think manslaughter aka negligent homicide is a plausible charge. but, let the evidence reviewed and the charging decisions made by appropriate authorities.

            2. So to simply say that if some random citizen did this then they would be arrested – is a non sequitar.

              I gave you a logical scenario that you apparently did not process. It was certainly far more reasonable than My GUESS is Floyd had a heart attack from whatever drugs (probably meth) he was on.

              The officers involved were immediately fired, not administratively reassigned, subject to review. This implies their superiors already determined the available evidence of the officers performance was sufficient to terminate them from the force. My GUESS is, they hoped that action would quell unrest in the community. They apparently were wrong.

              There is nothing that will come out of the autopsy and a full investigation that will justify this force used against a suspect handcuffed, prone on his belly and with other officers also holding him down or standing by watching. Well, unless maybe the autopsy proves him to be a Terminator from the future.

              1. That is correct. The DA should have already had them arrested on suspicion.

              2. I agree. I don’t see the officers getting jumbled around at all. I don’t see them countering a struggling resisting suspect. It is completely unclear why they are on top of him. Three of them. I’ve heard 7 minutes on top, now 8 minutes, but I haven’t seen that vid, would anyone like to go for 10 minutes ?

                My raw guess is he complained about the cuffs being too tight again when they got him by the squad, and it ticked them off, so they did a don’t complain lesson.

  5. Clearly President Trump is responsible for the governance in all the communities with systemic racial profiling, police abuse of power and of course violent protests/rioting. This is a problem developed only since 2017 and the only thing necessary to do is make sure Trump is not reelected. Then everything will get back to normal. [Sarc Off]

        1. Paul,
          She and Book share the dubious distinction of being wrong on nearly everything they believe. 🙂

      1. they were on NPR today trotting out one list of sins of Trump after another. I lost track. not sure exactly how it all broke down just “ORANGE MAN BAD”

    1. Yep even the south side of Chicago oops isn’t that Obama country? If the Minneapolis police just back off the city could be just like the south side of Chicago, where the gangs endlessly kill each other

      1. The best thing the mayor and governor should do at this point is to enforce their social distancing policies and begin issuing citations.

    2. Of course police departments engage in racial profiling. It’s an important vector in making actuarial calculations, and that’s what you every day. You remove that vector, you have contrived to introduce massive inefficiences into police practice.

  6. A compromise might be the answer, like “Riotesters” (rioters/protesters) or maybe
    “”Protooters” ( protesters/looters)?

  7. Here’s a local reporters’ ‘work’ – I just listed incidents I could find from 1 reporter
    Target looted to empty
    Cubs Foods looted to a shell
    Family Dollar torched
    Pawn Shop Cedar-Riverside torched down
    3rd Precinct PD on fire, roof officers and fence defense failed
    East Lake Clinic vandalized
    Tear gas incident origin unknown
    Apartment building burning again
    Car fire
    Target closing two dozen stores Minneapolis
    Tear gas University St Paul
    Police Squad vehicle damaged
    The 3rd, buildings burned to ground, graffiti, newly boarded windows
    Neighborhood, burned looted and boarded up
    Autozone on fire
    3rd precinct firing rubber bullets if crowd throws something


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