Thousands of people have called for a boycott of a St. Louis television station after the news outlet aired video showing the home of a Ferguson police officer at the center of a national controversy.
NBC affiliate KSDK-TV (Channel 5) apologized to viewers on Saturday after the station acknowledged it erred in judgment when it broadcast pictures of Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson’s home during a news broadcast one day earlier.
“KSDK immediately felt using that video was a mistake and pulled the video of the home from future newscasts and from our web site,” a statement posted on Facebook said. “We have not used the video since then and do not intend to do so.”
Since the broadcast, thousands flooded Twitter and Facebook calling for a boycott of the station.
A Facebook page called “Boycott KSDK” had 18,000 supporters as of Saturday afternoon. On Twitter, users expressed disgust and contempt at the station, with some even tweeting the home address and Google street view images of the station’s general manager in an apparent retaliatory move. Others demonstrated how to delete KSDK’s iPhone app, encouraging others to leave negative reviews on KSDK products in Apple and Google’s app stores.
“As a former St. Louis area Police Chief, this was uncalled for and unprofessional,” Robert Cossia wrote in a comment posted to KSDK’s Facebook page. “To do this for either the police officer or the victim is irresponsible and makes your actions culpable if any violence or property damage comes to his home or family. Your actions has shown total disrespect to the law enforcement community that all of you rely on. Shame on you.”
At a hastily-arranged press conference on Friday, Wilson was identified as the officer responsible for the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in an incident on August 9. Shortly after the name was released, reporters from KSDK and the newspaper USA Today went to the Crestwood neighborhood where Wilson lives (KSDK and USA Today are both owned by the Gannett Corporation).
“Arrived in Crestwood where officer Darren Wilson lives,” USA Today correspondent Aamer Madhani tweeted. “When I knocked police officer rolled up and told me Wilson left days ago.”
Residents told USA Today and KSDK that they were unaware Wilson was involved in the shooting incident until Crestfield police officers knocked on their door yesterday, warning neighbors that the area would receive increased attention once the officer’s name was released.
In addition to Wilson’s name, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson released surveillance video that appeared to show Brown shoplifting tobacco products from a convenience store the day of the shooting. The video also shows Brown engaging in an altercation with the convenience store clerk before leaving the market. Jackson justified the release of the information by saying news organizations had been filing open records request with the department.
KSDK was one of several news organizations that aired the surveillance video released on Friday, but it appears the station was alone in showing the home of the officer involved in the shooting. It is unclear if KSDK, an affiliate of NBC and CNN, distributed video of the home to others.
The controversy punctuates how local news organizations are struggling to keep pace with a polarizing, yet constantly developing, story that has been thrust into the national spotlight.
In some instances, limited resources have stifled local broadcasters’ abilities to keep up with the expectations of a globally-connected audience. Immediately after the shooting, thousands tuned to the live stream of FOX affiliate KTVI (Channel 2) as the station showed images of rioting and looting in Ferguson long after other news operations had signed off for the evening. On Friday, CBS affiliate KMOV (Channel 4) hastily assembled a skeleton news crew to broadcast live images from Ferguson when rioting and looting resumed.
Local law enforcement has also been blamed for stifling the ability of journalists to cover the situation in Ferguson. During the first wave of protests, officers repeatedly told news photographers to stop filming and evacuate the area. In one instance, police fired a tear gas canister in the direction of an Al Jazeera television news crew (the incident was photographed and later broadcast by KSDK).
Last week, the FAA imposed a no-fly restriction around Ferguson following a request by St. Louis County police officials. The restriction forbids aircraft from flying lower than 3,000 feet within the zone of the flight restriction. The restriction allows for news helicopters to fly over Ferguson, but only if the station files a flight plan ahead of time — a demand that is virtually impossible to fulfill in order to cover breaking news (in St. Louis, only KSDK and KTVI have news helicopters).
On Wednesday, two journalists were arrested after officers in riot gear stormed a fast food restaurant near anti-police demonstrations. The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery and the Huffington Posts’s Ryan Reilly were briefly detained by police after they had been ordered to evacuate a McDonald’s restaurant where they had been charging equipment. Both were released within an hour after a reporter from the Los Angeles Times contacted the Ferguson police chief.