The film Hoaxed claims to be a documentary that tells the truth about the media and fake news. One part of the film looks at how the media covers racial violence. The directors and Mr Cernovich, though, want to look at how the news distorts coverage since the media focuses on violence by whites on blacks and they argue the media under report violence of blacks against whites. To demonstrate this claim, they enlist the help of Hawk Newsome the President of the Black Lives Movement of greater New York.
We see him in the trailer so his part in the movie, which is from 1h44 to 1h55 is central to the film. The film appears to treat Mr Newsome sympathetically as he has time to explain why Black Lives Matters is important and he could reach a wider audience. A wider audience that is not filtered by traditional media reporting. However, the film used Mr Newsome’s appearance and edited a key sequence of the film for their purposes.
In the trailer Mr Newsome is surprised by a story that he has never heard of. To understand that scene and his surprise we need more context than the film provides. In this the film violates an important rule of documentaries because it edits the scene to fit the film maker’s agenda instead of letting the character or the topic explain itself.
The scene, in question, occurs at 1h50. Mr Newsome raises the point that when you hear about a black victim they are villainized as you hear about their criminal record, or if they were an alcoholic or had a drug problem. By contrast, he argues that a white victim is described as victimized.
“The first thing you hear when a cop kills someone of color, is their criminal history, if they alcoholic, they were a woman beater, they were who knows. When a black person is killed, they’re villainized. And when a white person is killed, they are victimized. Villainized an victimized and that is the media.”
At this point in the scene, the cameraman hands him a mobile phone and asks:
“Did you hear the inverse situation of the complaints against the media in terms of interracial crimes like the Dylan Root Shooting in Charleston and then there was the shooting in Tennessee that was like a black man shot up a church and so people were saying oh that the Charleston shooting got this big media coverage, that shooting got nothing because it was the inverse.”
“How do you respond to that?”
On the screen we see what appears to be an image, a screenshot, of a news story but the source is not identified.[i]
Mr Newsome is being presented something for the first time. He knows about the Charleston shooting but he is unaware of the Tennessee shooting. The film plants the idea that the Charleston shooting had more coverage than the Tennessee shooting because it was white on black violence.
Mr Newsome reacts as we would expect; he has not heard of it and cannot understand why he has not heard of it despite having three to four thousand Facebook friends who might have drawn his attention to it.
“I don’t understand why I have heard of this. Like, what’s unbelievable. I don’t understand why I never heard of that story. And what’s more amazing to me is I have over, I don’t know three to four thousand friends on Facebook. I have never seen that story published. It is interesting to me.”
What is unstated is that white on black violence is prioritised over black on white violence. The film suggests that these events are equivalent and worthy of the same coverage. Moreover, it suggests that the Tennessee Church shooting had less coverage because it does not fit the preferred media narrative of white on black violence.
Mr. Newsome reads from the phone and an image of what he is reading appears on the screen. It says that the initial report of the event shows that the shooter, Mr. Sampson did attend the church on occasion, but that is not mentioned in the film nor does Mr Newsome notice it.
“And church members told investigators that Samson had attended services a year or two ago. “1hr51m22s
Instead, he and the film makers focus on the sentence that reads
“All of the victims in Nashville were white, but it is not clear whether Samson specifically targeted them based on their race.”
Mr Newsome is surprised as would anyone else who is unaware of the context for each shooting. The film would convince an uninformed audience that the Tennessee shooting was not covered because of the black on white violence and the shootings are similar. However, the context and outcome for each shooting explains the difference in coverage and the film does not explore that difference because that would undermine its narrative which is more important than the truth. In this manipulative scene, the film does exactly what it accuses the media of doing. It distorts the issue, creates a false equivalence, and leads the viewer to the wrong conclusion about black on white violence. The only thing that links the shootings is that they were at a church and the second shooting was in response to the first. After that, the comparisons fade.
Here is a comparison chart that explains why they had different coverage.
|Shooter||Dylan Storm Root||Emanuel Kidega Samson|
|Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church/ African American Church||Burnette Chapel shooting/ Mixed Congregation||The Charleston Church is a symbol of the civil rights movement including the Black Lives Matter Movement.|
|Known to victim or location||No||Yes. He had attended the church few times but had not attended for over a year.|
|Charleston was the largest Church Shooting ever to occur up to that date.|
|Affiliation or ideology||Online manifesto/statement White supremacist||Some interest in black supremacist figures and groups like|
|Reason||White Supremacism and desire to kill black people and start a race war.||Revenge for Charleston Shooting|
|Context||No mass shootings in the month before or after with a high death toll or higher profile target location.[iv]||One week after this shooting the largest mass shooting and murder in US history occurs in Las Vegas with 59 people killed and 869 injured with 413 by gunfire.
A month later the largest church shooting occurs in Texas with the Sutherland Springs church shooting where 27 are killed including shooter and unborn child and 20 are wounded.[v]
At the time the article was written Samson’s motive was unknown so it would have been irresponsible to speculate. By contrast, Root was explicit in his motive before, during, and after the shooting. He was a white supremacist who wanted to start a race war by killing African Americans. He was attacking African Americans at a place symbolic of the Civil Rights movement, a target with a significant political and racial profile. At that point, the Charleston Church Shooting was the deadliest church shooting in the country’s history. To put it mildly, it was an unprecedented event. Unprecedented events against a high-profile target for a racist motive will gain a lot of attention and there was no other event before or after it to dilute the coverage.
By contrast, the Tennessee shooting’s target, context, or outcome would not draw the same attention. The shooter attended the church, the church is not a political or racial symbol in the community or the nation. The shooter did not want to start a race war, but he wanted revenge. In all aspects it is not an unprecedented event as it is does not eclipse the Charleston shooting in deaths or in the wider context of racial politics. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, one week later it is overshadowed by the largest mass murder in American history as the Las Vegas shooting claims 59 lives and leaves 869 people injured. The mass murder story gets global attention for weeks. Then a month after the Burnette Chapel shooting, the worst church shooting in American history occurs in Sutherland Springs and draws national attention for weeks.[vi] Yet this context is not provided by Mr Cernovich or the movie and it is not given to Mr Newsome so he can understand why he has not heard of the Burnette Chapel shooting.
What makes this particularly manipulative is what happens next.
The documentary shifts to Mr. Cernovich who claims that the media will not report it because it would mean that whites might start to think they “Hey, this could happen to me” that they might get shot by a black person and therefore they might sit down with black people to find common cause with them. Mr Cernovich then claims the media do not want that as the media do not care about white lives or black lives, they just want the show to go on, which is ironic given that is exactly what his documentary is doing with this scene.
“Now, in my view, the media doesn’t want to give attention to white people who are shot because white people might say, oh that could happen to me too. Maybe I ought to talk to these Black Lives Matters people. Maybe we can find common cause. The media does not care about black lives. They don’t care about white lives. They care about the show. And a Black Lives Matter leader who was reasonable and nuanced, and wanted to talk about both rights and responsibilities, would resonate with the people. And that would be very frustration for the media. They don’t want people to resonate.”
Except none of what he says is true nor does he provide any evidence. He wants his audience to believe that the reason why there is disparity between whites and blacks or why African Americans continue to struggle for their civil rights is because of the media. He does this without evidence that black on white violence occurs as often or to the same intensity as white on black violence. He has no evidence for his claims except for his beliefs about the media. The reality that white on black violence is much more common than black on white violence. They are not equivalent. Moreover, the media do report on groups who seek to reduce violence and create racial harmony, but that doesn’t suit his narrative. Instead, he wants to push the narrative that the media wants whites and blacks to kill each other. In this, he acts in bad faith.
Mr Newsome, however, is acting in good faith. He acts in the belief that the film will show the Black Lives Matters movement to a larger audience. What is not clear is whether he would have been aware that he would be used as a foil for the film to claim that black on white violence is not covered as much as white on black violence. Moreover, it is not clear whether he understood that the filmmakers were linking Black Lives Matters message to the Alt-Right movement. The film uses his surprise, which features in the trailer, as an important hook for the film, just as they use him, and by extension, the Black Lives Matter movement to create a false narrative about the media, about media coverage of black on white violence. When they equate the Burnette Chapel shooting with the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting, we find that the film makers and Mr Cernovich have created a fake news narrative to achieve their goal which is to indoctrinate not document and to deceive not to discern.
If Mr Cernovich and the directors were interested in the Black Lives Message, why did they manipulate them in this way?
[i] The source appears to be the Associated Press as several outlets carried this texted and many carried variations on it with some editing it for emphasis or adding extra details. See for example,
https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/u-s-world/note-in-tennessee-church-shooting-refers-to-revenge-for-dylan-roof-massacre-ap-sources (retrieved 16 May 2020) See also https://www.foxnews.com/us/ap-sources-note-in-church-shooting-refers-to-roof-shooting (retrieved 16 May 2020)
[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charleston_church_shooting (retrieved 16 May 2020)
[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnette_Chapel_shooting (retrieved 16 May 2020)
[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mass_shootings_in_the_United_States#2015 (retrieved 16 May 2020)
[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mass_shootings_in_the_United_States#2017 (retrieved 16 May 2020)
[vi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutherland_Springs_church_shooting (retrieved 16 May 2020)