Weirdos Riot: What's Wrong With the Buffalo News?
by Michael I. Niman
It doesn’t really seem like the kind of story that would make the national news—10
US Forest Service police officers arrest a man in Wyoming for crime of
being “uncooperative.” Add the freak show specter of “eccentrics” and
“hippie types” throwing rocks and sticks, however, and in the era of
Jerry Springer, you’ve got the makings of a national news story. Hence,
nearly 2,000 miles away, the Buffalo News ran the story under the headline, “5 arrested in Rainbow Family clash with feds.”
In actuality, there was a national story, only it wasn’t the one that appeared in the Buffalo News.
I was at the scene, conducting research and working with a film crew
producing a documentary about the group, which was the subject of my
doctoral research and subsequent book, People of the Rainbow (Univ. of Tennessee Press). The alleged hippie riot reported by the News and dozens of other media outlets around the United States never happened. This Buffalo News
story, gleaned from the Associated Press wire service, like much of
what we read in mainstream newspapers, was based entirely on an
official government source, with no “on the ground” reporting or source
verification, no independent eyewitness reports, and no quotes from the
group in question.
The main problem here, as legendary investigative reporter
I.F. Stone put it, is that “all governments lie.” It’s a chronic
problem that reporters face—and a point journalism professors have been
trying to drive home for at least three generations. You can’t base
stories entirely on the narrative provided by one party to a conflict.
You can’t base stories entirely on government or corporate press
releases or official documents. News stories need to be based on
reporting, not stenography.