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Why We’re Doomed (Plus a Plug)

Alex Pareene —  Sep 6 2014 @ 11:19am
by Alex Pareene

As some of you know, I’m the executive editor of a forthcoming digital magazine (or “website”) headed by Matt Taibbi and published by First Look Media. We have already put together a great team of writers and reporters, with a few more hires yet to come. (If you know a great story editor, story designer, or illustrator, please send them our way.)

Were I better at promotion, I would have some sort of link to share with you, where you could go to be kept abreast of what this project is and when it will launch, but for now, I guess just follow Matt and me on Twitter (or just Matt – he tweets less often, which I’ve increasingly come to see as the single best characteristic of a Twitter user) and we will eventually let everyone know what we’re building in here.

My experience helping to put together a new media organization this summer is what led me to write so much about the press this week, and before I go I’ll share a few more un-asked for thoughts on “the future of journalism.” (FYI, I am actually just auditioning to become an incredibly well-compensated “futurist” media guru consultant/speaker.)

There is, rather suddenly, a lot of fresh money in journalism (and media in general), but much of that money is going to spread the same rather predictable viewpoints, from the technocratic center-left Beltway wisdom of Vox to Bloomberg’s attempt to launch a high-profile new politics brand built around horse-race enthusiasts Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. (Bloomberg will air a daily show hosted by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, modeled on ESPN shout-fest “Pardon the Interruption,” called “With All Due Respect,” presumably because this FX show already took the name “You’re the Worst.”)

Vox does some good work, and I’m sure Bloomberg Politics will have some good work in it as well, but the supposedly democratizing effect the Internet was supposed to have on Big Media has turned out to be a bit lame.

A few large online publishers — BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, Vox Media — and massive corporate “legacy” media – like the sites run by ESPN – are the industry’s biggest “success stories,” and for all those players, success came in large part because they already had a lot of money to begin with. I, obviously, am part of that big money media sphere now, though First Look Media has already and will (I hope) continue to distinguish itself by hiring iconoclastic and irreverent voices like Glenn Greenwald (and my boss Matt), while also investing in actual reporting, which, as many would-be saviors of journalism tend to forget, costs quite a bit of money.

That last inescapable fact is the root of my main fear for the future of this industry: Nothing will replace statehouse reporting, because there’s no money in statehouse reporting. Unless you happen to live in the New York tri-state area or near the Beltway, there’s a good chance that hardly anyone is keeping on eye on your state legislature and governor, to say nothing of your city council, mayor, school board, and police department. And no one has come up with a plan to replace the people who used to do this. (Can we get some billionaire to fund a “Teach for America,” but for local journalism?) (I guess I could ask my billionaire.)

On that dour note, I sign off from the Dish. I’d like to thank Andrew Sullivan for letting me play at his site, even though there was always a very real possibility that I would just use this perch to make fun of him. (A friend suggested I begin my guest-blogging stint writing a series of posts strongly urging military intervention in Iraq, and then, gradually, completely reverse my position over the course of the week. I slightly regret not doing this.) And I’d especially like to thank the entire team at the Dish – Chris, Patrick, Chas, and everyone else – who do a bang-up job keeping this operation running smoothly. Please tip your servers.

by Alex Pareene

Paloma Esquivel and Sandra Poindexter of the L.A. Times report that America’s idiot rich are bringing back measles and whooping cough, thanks to the widespread popularity of stupid conspiracy theories about the supposed dangers of vaccines, and California’s lax “personal belief” exemptions from vaccine requirements for school children. Hundreds of California schools now have vaccine exemption rates of higher than 8 percent, the level at which “herd immunity” from infectious diseases breaks down.

As Michael Hiltzik emphasizes, the rise in exemptions from vaccine requirements is driven almost entirely by wealthy parents:

A Times analysis of the state figures found that the growth in personal-belief exemptions was particularly prevalent at private schools: Nearly 1 in 4 of those kindergartens reported at least 8% of their students were exempt from at least one vaccine last fall because of personal belief. In 2007, that figure was just 1 in 10. The rate for public school kindergartners last fall also more than doubled to 11% from 5% in 2007.

And:

In Los Angeles County, the rise in personal belief exemptions is most prominent in wealthy coastal and mountain communities, The Times analysis shows. The more than 150 schools with exemption rates of 8% or higher for at least one vaccine were located in census tracts where the incomes averaged $94,500 — nearly 60% higher than the county median.

When will rich Californian community leaders finally address their endemic culture of ignorance, instead of always blaming outside forces like “pharmaceutical companies” and “doctors” and “established medical science” for their problems? The vaccine panic, like 9/11 Trutherism, is a conspiracy theory with more appeal to the left than the right.

Its villain is not Big Government but Big Pharma. Jenny McCarthy, the most prominent voice of the anti-vaccine movement, had her dangerous nonsense amplified by the explicitly liberal media (specifically, Oprah Winfrey and the Huffington Post). For American liberalism, a political movement that regularly declares itself “pro-science,” this is more than a bit embarrassing. (See also: All crunchy rich liberal discussion of “toxins” and “non-celiac gluten sensitivity,” which probably doesn’t exist, or at least which is probably caused by something other than gluten.)

Of course, if the government were to get involved – say, by eliminating the “personal belief” exemption entirely (something that should happen, to be clear) – I’m sure the right would suddenly find common cause with the deluded liberals behind the anti-vaccine movement. Indeed, Michele Bachmann already flirted with anti-vaccine rhetoric during her 2011 run for the presidency. (Maybe this is the issue Republicans can use to finally close the gender gap!)

Not vaccinating your child puts other children at risk. If there’s one situation in which I’m entirely in favor of jack-booted nanny-state government shock troops telling people what they can and can’t do with their bodies, it’s this.

by Alex Pareene

burger-kings-online-garbage

WARNING: This is a post, by a media professional, about the media. If you are a normal human being, you will not and definitely should not care, except inasmuch as it’s part of a debate about whether or not we, the media, are failing you, the normal human being. If you are looking for something a little more general-interest, may I recommend, I dunno, a 10,000-word Grantland post about a prestige cable show. Or make some fantasy football trades. Or read a book, I don’t know!

On Wednesday, I wrote about Takes. My piece was a blog post, written on the fly, based on ideas that have been rattling around in my head for a while. If I’d taken the time – say a week, or a month – to organize those thoughts better, and clarify my argument, I would’ve written a very different – and almost certainly better – piece. But I didn’t do that (I am only guesting here at The Dish for one short week, after all), so I now cheerfully admit that, as my (friendly) critics contend, I conflated a few different Internet tropes. Specifically, in the words of Jack Dickey, I conflated “aggregated picayune garbage with the Take.”

So let’s get into this a bit more. Here are the primary types of garbage content that lots of money – money that could be spent on making good things – is currently being spent on producing:

No-value-added news blogging

This is “aggregated picayune garbage,” and it is the primary pollutant in the Great Pacific garbage patch of the Internet. It is just mass-produced debris, utterly valueless, thoughtlessly sent into the world without regard for quality, but solely because it fills the short-term need to have some sort of piece of content on which to sell ads.

This makes up 75 percent* of the content on TIME’s “Newsfeed” (“Chris Pratt Messes Up First Pitch at Cubs Game, Is Completely Charming About It,” “43.5 Socks Removed from Dog’s Stomach During Surgery“), with similar numbers at the Huffington Post, and the newsblogs of AOL and Yahoo and MSN. That’s just the general-interest news media. In other fields, it’s frequently worse, largely because shrinking budgets have decimated everything that isn’t cheap aggregation. Music and pop culture sites in particular are full of semi-identical news nuggets (“Kate Bush’s House in Danger of Falling Into the Sea,” “Kate Bush Is Literally Living Life on the Edge,”, “Kate Bush’s House Might Fall Into the Ocean”), as are sites dedicated to film, comics, and entertainment in general.

*(NB: All percentages and figures in this piece are just made-up, but feel right to me.)

This sort of newsblogging is also, to varying degrees, what makes up much of the Gawker Media* sites’ daily output, even as they’ve strived (successfully) to produce a lot of original material that isn’t aggregation. And to be fair to Gawker Media, they were among the first to do this at all. When they were the only game in town, this sort of newsblogging was an entertaining substitute for reading multiple newspapers, blogs and magazines. Now no one actually reads multiple newspapers, blogs, and magazines, besides the people who aggregate for a living. Everyone else just reads what comes in through their feeds, and all publishers are fighting to post the version of the story that ends up in the most feeds.

*(Disclosure: I worked at Gawker Media for many years. It taught me how to write and post little bits of news, with jokes, very quickly. I’ve spent the last few years learning how to do this more slowly, and at greater length.)

Reddit-chasing

This happens when someone at a website is like, “this is on the second page of Reddit so someone put it up.”

For example: Man Buys Every Pie At Burger King to Spite Shitty Little Brat” (Gawker, also Eater, Consumerist, Break, MSN Living, Gothamist, OC Weekly, Refinery 29, etc.)

These are often, though not always, Takes. In this example, some websites thought that the man was funny and good for doing this, and other websites thought that the man was bad. Others declined to pass judgment and instead asked their readers to simply ponder the implications of the story. “This Reddit Post Sums Up All of Humankind,” one site lied. (NB: There is zero evidence – as in absolutely none – that this story actually happened, beyond the claim made by an anonymous person on a message board who subsequently disappeared from that message board. No one who picked up the story really cared.)

Other examples: “Reddit gives two-year-old cancer patient a nonstop pizza transfusion” and 75 percent of BuzzFeed.

“Jon Stewart eviscerates”

This category also includes: “this celebrity Tweeted,” “this cable news guest or host said,” and “a thing happened at an award show.”

Viral bilge

This is the Upworthy/Viral Nova/Elite Daily nexus of “viral” content packaged with manipulative headlines. The worst part of it is that at some places (though not all), it involves nearly as many man-hours of labor (the creation and comparative testing of dozens of headlines, for example) to produce stupid garbage like “9 Charming Traits Class Clowns All Share That Landed Them In Detention Every Day” and “What These People Found In Their Attic Changed Their Lives Forever” as it would to create something actually edifying and interesting.

When these forms of aggregation are ubiquitous – and they’re everywhere, from USA Today to Cosmopolitan to all the Village Voice alt-weeklies to Glenn Beck’s The Blaze to The Bustle to the AV Club to SPIN to Complex – the only means sites have to differentiate themselves are “voice,” speed, and social/SEO juicing. “Voice” leads to the Take; it’s an adaptation to aggregation, designed to help sites differentiate otherwise identical content. The endpoint of Take Culture is “Thought Catalog,” where literally every take, from any person, no matter how stupid or offensive, is presented as just as valid, as every other Take, with the Takes that generate a lot of outraged inbound traffic the most equally valid of all.

This is not to demonize all aggregation and opinion-blogging. The Dish, for example, does both of those things quite well, because at The Dish, the aggregation is wide-ranging, instead of directed purely and cynically at latching onto a currently trending topic or getting some tiny bit of micro-news posted a split second faster than the dozen other sites that will also be posting that tiny bit of micro-news as quickly as possible. As for the opinion-blogging, well, say what you will about the man who has generously allowed me to crash at his place while he’s out of town, but no one can accuse Andrew Sullivan of producing Takes that he doesn’t strongly and sincerely believe in. (At the time he writes them, at least.) Opinion-blogging works when interesting writers have interesting, sincerely-held opinions. “Takes” are attempts to artificially replicate that process with whomever is handy and whatever opinions it seems plausible that someone might hold.

The majority of the shit described in this blog post is useless. The world doesn’t need 5,000 separate-but-barely-distinct versions of every damn story from every damn field of human endeavor. The people getting paid (barely) to produce those slightly differentiated versions of every story ever are wasting their time, unless “able to crop a picture of a celebrity in WordPress without help” becomes, suddenly, a much scarcer and more in-demand skill. The reader, in nearly every case, is getting a less-good version (or several less-good versions) of the story than whatever the original was. The vast majority of this sort of aggregation could be replaced with one curated Twitter feed that every website in existence could run on a siderail, and the media consumer would benefit. And even in that scenario, the bottom-rung producers of content are still effectively screwed. So I don’t know. Maybe it’s time to consider an organized aggregator work slowdown?

by Alex Pareene

Police Presence Increased On Brooklyn Bridge After Recent Security Breaches

Speaking of cops: Two illuminating stories of officer-involved citizen interactions came across my Twitter feed within a few hours of each other. They occurred at opposite ends of the country, only one ended in an arrest, and neither ended in any serious injury or death, but they both illustrate what happens when urban cops apply their usual treatment of marginalized communities to people with actual power.

The first is from DNAinfo. Last month, following a pro-Palestinian rally in Times Square, Chaumtoli Huq was waiting outside a Ruby Tuesday in Midtown Manhattan while her husband and children used the bathroom inside. Two police officers approached and asked her to clear the sidewalk. She declined. They pinned her against the wall and arrested her. She was charged with obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. The resisting arrest charge was because she allegedly “flailed her arms and twisted her body” while the officer was attempting to handcuff her for waiting on a sidewalk for her family to come out of a restaurant. (A “resisting arrest” is frequently an indicator that a cop just really wanted to arrest someone but couldn’t come up with any actual crimes to justify it.)

She added that officers went through her purse without probable cause before taking her to the Midtown South Precinct — all while her family was still inside the restaurant. Huq’s husband and children were notified by another officer and eventually came looking for her at the precinct, according to her federal civil rights suit, which is expected to be filed Tuesday. Officers offered to deliver Huq’s purse and personal items out to her husband, but then became suspicious when she told the officer his last name was different than hers, according to the lawsuit. “In America wives take the names of their husbands,” the officer told her according to court papers.

The second story is from KPIX 5. In Oakland, California, not long after Huq’s arrest, a police officer pulled a gun threatened to pull a gun on Keith Jones and his two sons:

It was 10:45 p.m., after a recent Raiders game. Veteran firefighter Keith Jones and his two sons, ages 9 and 12, were walking back to their SUV at Station 29. A fire crew responding to an emergency had forgotten to close the garage door. Jones went in to make sure everything was secure. As Jones walked out, he said a police officer, responding to a possible burglary in progress, yelled “Don’t move, put your hands up.”

“And his hand is on his gun. He was crouched, he was low, and he was basically in a shooting stance,” Jones said. Jones complied, but noticed his 9-year-old son Trevon was starting to cry. The officer saw the two kids first and had already told them to raise their hands. Jones said he told the officer that he was an Oakland firefighter, that he worked at the station and that they were his kids. He asked the officer to allow his kids to lower their hands and tell them everything is OK. Jones said the officer told them to keep their hands up and not to move. The firefighter said this lasted for a few minutes.

Jones was eventually allowed to reach into his pocket and present his firefighter ID.

Jones, you have probably guessed, is black. Huq is Muslim and South Asian, and was dressed, at the time of her arrest, in “a traditional Indian tunic and pants.”

What Jones and Huq have in common is that they have the resources and connections necessary to get people in positions of authority to care. Huq is an attorney who formerly worked with Letitia James, New York City’s public advocate. Keith Jones is a firefighter, part of a tight-knit organization, beloved by the media, with a great deal of municipal power (not unlike most police departments). Huq is filing a federal lawsuit. Jones had the Oakland fire chief complain to the police chief on his behalf, and Internal Affairs is now investigating the incident.

I have no doubt that the interactions Huq and Jones had with those police officers are repeated multiple times a day, in cities across the country. (A police trainer tells KPIX 5 that the officer was “following protocol” but should have apologized to Jones and his children, which, ha ha, sir, good one.) Most of the time, people harassed or threatened by cops for no good reason have no recourse. Falsely arresting a human rights attorney and pointing a gun at a goddamn firefighter are just about two of the dumbest mistakes a cop can make. But most of the people they’re doing that sort of thing to aren’t human rights attorneys or firefighters. That’s why it continues to be “protocol” to point a gun at a guy for leaving work with his kids.

Update and a correction: The Oakland officer didn’t have his gun drawn, as I wrote. Jones described the officer as “in the crouch position” with his hand on his gun, “ready to pull his weapon,” but the weapon wasn’t actually drawn. I apologize for the error. (Additionally, the officer did say “I’m sorry for the scare,” despite my skepticism about cops apologizing.)

(Hat tip: Jamelle Bouie and Paul Ford)

by Alex Pareene

House Hearing With CEO's Involved In Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Angelo Mozilo, the co-founder and former CEO of notorious subprime lending machine Countrywide, was was one of the first top industry figures to be publicly blamed for the financial crisis, and he remains among the very few individuals to be actually punished for his role. He didn’t go to jail or anything, but the SEC made him pay a few million dollars in fines for fraud and insider trading. In exchange, the government dropped its criminal investigation. That seemed, to many people who aren’t Angelo Mozilo, like a decent deal, but now the U.S. Attorney’s in Los Angeles bringing a civil case against him, and Mozilo has emerged from wherever we keep disgraced former financial executives (it’s somewhere really, really nice, btw) to complain to Bloomberg’s Max Ableson that everyone is picking on him for no reason.

Mozilo is being mocked (and rightly) for his insistence that Countywide didn’t do anything wrong, when, in fact, it did a lot wrong, but at times in the interview, Mozilo approaches accidental insight:

“You’ll have to ask those people, ‘What do you have against Mozilo, what did he do?’” he said in a 30-minute call with Bloomberg News before Labor Day, one of his few interviews since the firm’s downfall. “Countrywide didn’t change. I didn’t change. The world changed.”

That’s sort of true! Mozilo’s confusion stems from the bubble in which he spent much of his adult life. He likely never read one remotely negative thing about himself, or his company, before 2007. He was much-admired and frequently adulated in business press, which could not stop giving him honors and awards:

In 2005, Fortune placed Countrywide on its list of “Most Admired Companies,” and Barron’s named Mozilo one of the thirty best C.E.O.s in the world. The following year, American Banker presented him with a lifetime-achievement award.

Mozilo was beloved because his company performed quite well for its shareholders, and made a lot of money. Much of that money came to be made through predatory lending and the production and sale of known toxic garbage; still, the money was still being made, and that’s all that mattered, to everyone who mattered, until the housing bubble revealed that the entire enterprise was based on equal parts malicious fraud and deluded wishful thinking. Basically, though, Mozilo was praised and feted for doing what he did, until he wasn’t, and he is confused. Wouldn’t you be?

On the plus side, he is giving back, by teaching tomorrow’s titans of industry how to repeat the mistakes of the very recent past:

Mozilo decided to teach undergraduates what he knows about finance last year. The former trustee of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, said he spent about two weeks in Italy at Gonzaga-in-Florence, housed in the Mozilo Center overlooking a 16th-century Medici garden.

“I taught them the basics of finance based on my own experiences,” he said. “I really enjoyed being among them. It was very refreshing for me.”

(About the Program: “To the Gonzaga-in-Florence student, Italy is much more than a boot-shaped peninsula in the Mediterranean; it is an opportunity of a lifetime.”) We can take solace in the fact that he is only “teaching” at an American college’s Western European study abroad program. The kids will be too busy recovering from hangovers and trying to figure out where to score ecstasy to actually pay attention to what the disgraced embodiment of a fraud-based financial house of cards is telling them.

(Photo: Angelo Mozilo, founder and former CEO, Countrywide Financial Corporation, stands at the witness table before the start of a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on Capitol Hill March 7, 2008 in Washington, DC. By Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Taking Of The Media

Alex Pareene —  Sep 3 2014 @ 1:37pm
by Alex Pareene

The Awl’s John Herrman brings us his take on Takes, the online media phenomenon wherein nearly every single outlet that produces “content” finds itself compelled to produce some sort of content related to some sort of news (or pseudo-news), despite having no original reporting or intelligent analysis to add. The problem is that generating actual news is difficult, time-consuming and expensive. Writing incisive analysis requires time to process, reflect, and refine one’s arguments. But the Internet needs those Takes now, while the topic is trending:

Take creators might have caught themselves saying things like “that, my friends, is why you never take nude photos of yourself,” or “just a reminder that, actually, sex is natural.” There were Takes on privacy and gender and consent and free speech issued with and without conviction. Everyone with an outlet—or, really, everyone, since the great democratization of Take distribution tools coaxed previously private Takes out from bars and dining rooms and into the harsh sunlight—found themselves under the spell of that horrible force that newspaper columnists feel every week, the one that eventually ruins every last one: the dreadful pull of a guaranteed audience.

The “we need to have something on this” impulse leads to the worst (professional) writing on the web. We all learn this anew each time some poor 20-something content producer writes some exceptionally dumb take, and everyone spends a few hours piling on the outlet that published it. But the attention-grabbing Offensive Takes only obscure the fact that all the inoffensive takes – the ephemeral, aggregated, feather-light blog posts telling people who already know that something happened that something happened, produced solely in the hopes that the post will, through luck and a bit of dark magic, win the Facebook algorithm lottery – are the most depressing pieces of writing on the web, for the reader and the writer.

The Internet media is exploitative and unkind to its greenest employees. Most of the Takes are written by 20-somethings making a (comparative) pittance. The Take is barely, if at all, edited. The young Take-producer is given no time to learn to report, or to read anything other than Everyone Else’s Takes. Dozens of aspiring journalists now have clips files that consist of hundreds of these awful aggregated units of completely disposable Content. Here’s 80 words on something James Franco did. Here’s 100 words on ISIS. This is my link to a Daily Mail story about long-lost twins who married each other.

The Takes wouldn’t be produced if they weren’t profitable – or at least aspirationally, potentially profitable – to the publishers, but the defining feature of modern web publishing is that the Takes are ruining the Brands. When your worst, laziest, least-polished writing is also the most frequently published content at your publication, that writing defines the voice of your site. BuzzFeed would love to be known for its journalism, but the economics of journalism mean that there will simply always be more quizzes than reported stories. And BuzzFeed is actually an outlier: They have a lot of money and a massive editorial staff, meaning no one is holding a gun to anyone’s head forcing them to churn out lists. (In other words, the most alarming thing about BuzzFeed is that its dumbest material isn’t produced in haste out of necessity.)

This isn’t simply a problem for fast-and-cheap New Media – your Mediaites, Daily Callers, and (yes) Salons – it’s an issue at nearly every print publication with a regularly updated web site. Rolling Stone still produces a lot of Quality (expensive) journalism. Its politics page does its best to highlight it. But there, over in the siderail, are the aggregation and takes, published far more frequently than the actual magazine: “Watch George W. Bush Get Doused for ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.” “T.I. Writes Powerful Posts on Ferguson Aftermath.” “Kevin Spacey Pranks Clintons in ‘House of Cards’ Spoof.” “John Boehner Uses Billy Joel Pubs to Blast Obama’s Jobs Plan.” All of that stuff was already everywhere else before each of those posts was published (indeed, the fact that they were everywhere else is why they were published). Amusingly, it is all under the utterly dishonest rubric “BREAKING.”

A large number, if not a majority, of editors and publishers understand how untenable and embarrassing this is. But the Takes won’t stop until Facebook turns off the traffic fire-hose for good, at which point we’ll all be out of work anyway.

 

Update: Pareene’s Round Two on the subject is here.

by Alex Pareene

SLUG: ME-Ammo DATE: August 23, 2007 CREDIT: James M. Threshe

Let’s talk about “officer-involved shootings.” That is the formal term, used by seemingly all American local news broadcasts, for when a cop shoots someone. Instead of saying “‘Cops’ crew member killed by police officer,” the headline is, “‘Cops’ crew-member killed after officer-involved shooting.” (It just sort of happened, after that shooting.) There is also “police involved shooting,” a term I first noticed being used by the local New York evening news team last May.

These terms are terrible and journalists should not use them. They are cop-speak. Local news reporters love nothing more than adopting cop-speak, because local news is built on manufacturing fear of crime and venerating of police officers, but both of these terms fail the crucial test of actually being coherent explanations of what happened. Of course police would invent an obfuscatory euphemism for when they shoot people – they would be fools not to try to come up with a nice way of saying “we killed someone” – but the press’ job is supposed to be to translate those euphemisms into plain English.

“Officer-involved shooting” absolves the person who actually pulled the trigger of responsibility, turning the shooting into an apparently inevitable act. The officer was just involved! As Natasha Lennard at Vice News puts it:

The phrase “police-involved shooting” is a careful construction, which, like the criminal justice system more broadly, tends to point blame away from cops. It is code for “the cops shot someone.”

To a reporter, “officer-involved shooting” should sound as grating to the ear as “bear-involved large mammal attack.”

The two terms, now ubiquitous, appear to be very successful modern coinages. Neither phrase seems to have been in usage at all before the 1970s. Usage of “officer involved shooting” soared during the 1980s and 1990s, with “police involved shooting” not catching on until the 2000s.

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 6.50.10 PM

Where did the term come from? The LAPD has, for years, produced an annual “Officer Involved Shooting” report (NYT) and has had an “officer involved shooting unit” since 1987 or earlier. I wouldn’t be surprised if the phrase made its way into the press’ lexicon via former LAPD chief (and racist paramilitary policing pioneer) Daryl Gates, a man who rarely shied from television cameras. (If anyone knows the actual origin of the phrase, please let us know: dish@andrewsullivan.com)

The International Association of Chiefs of Police, by the way, publishes “Officer-Involved Shooting guidelines” (pdf). The guidelines aren’t about how not to shoot someone, but more about what to do once you have shot someone. The entire document is sort of incredible in its careful consideration of the emotional and mental state of the officer, and its complete silence on the status of the person the officer actually shot. For example:

Following a shooting incident, officers often feel vulnerable if unarmed. If an officer’s firearm has been taken as evidence or simply pursuant to departmental policy, a replacement weapon should be immediately provided as a sign of support, confidence, and trust unless there is an articulable basis for deviating from this procedure. Officers should be kept informed of when their weapon is likely to be returned. Care should be taken to process and collect evidence from the officer as soon as practicable to provide an opportunity to change into civilian clothing.

It is vital that you give the officer his gun back as soon as possible, or else he might feel bad, about shooting someone.

I can’t say this definitively, because, as we’ve learned this month, there is no national database of police shootings, but American cops seem to shoot other people far more often than people shoot cops. The number of police killed by firearms peaked in the early 1970s, and has steadily declined since. It hasn’t cracked 100 officers in any year over the last decade. Meanwhile, around 400 people a year are killed in “justifiable police homicides,” according to the only official numbers available for police homicides. (And that report doesn’t even pretend to be a complete account of everyone killed by police officers.) “Police involved shooting” may not be quite as obfuscatory a phrase as it was designed to be, simply because the majority of American shootings “involving” cops seem to be shootings by cops.

(Photo: Montgomery County police officers qualifying at their indoor shooting range in Rockville, Maryland on August 23, 2007. For story on ammunition rationing due to the war in Iraq. By James M. Thresher/The Washington Post/Getty Images.)