Toledo, OH – The managing editor of the Toledo Blade, the largest newspaper in Northwest Ohio, wrote an apology to the Toledo Police Department and the citizens of the city on Monday for the publication’s handling of an officer-involved shooting story over the weekend.
Unfortunately, the apology fell seriously short.
The initial stories published on the Toledo Blade’s website and shared on their social media included unverified videos of people who claimed that police had shot an unarmed 16-year-old boy who was on his knees with his hands up.
The situation in the city became so inflamed that the Toledo mayor called a special meeting of lawmakers, police, and community leaders and decided to release the dashcam video of the shooting within hours of the incident occurring.
The video showed that 25-year-old Lamar Richardson was in fact facing police and holding a pistol when he was shot.
Witnesses told police that they heard officers tell Richardson to drop his weapon before he was shot. But that didn’t stop the Toledo Blade from whipping up the community again on Sunday.
The Sunday edition of the Toledo Blade featured a massive headline and included the race of the man who was shot and the race of the officer who shot him.
It also included comments from Richardson’s family about how he had big dreams cut short, but neglected to mention that Richardson was wanted on five warrants - one of them for a felony, another for domestic violence – at the time he was shot. It also failed to mention that he had 28 prior arrests on his record.
Toledo Blade Managing Editor Dave Murray said that when he saw the mistake, he fixed it. They removed the races and added the information about Richardson’s criminal record.
However, all of the first editions of the newspaper had already gone out to inner city, where racial tensions were the most heated. Only the 69,000 copies that went to the suburbs included the fix, according to the Toledo Blade.
“What you need to know, and even I find amazing, is that according to The Blade's computer system the web story about this tragic incident Friday night changed almost 100 times throughout the evening, with editors and reporters covering the story jumping in and out of the story, updating it as more details came into the newsroom,” Murray explained in his mea culpa published on Monday morning.
That’s the nature of breaking news, as everybody in journalism is well aware. And that’s why, once upon a time, a short deadline was considered a defense for libel in journalism.
But as media platforms have changed, so have standards. And the responsibility of journalists to verify information with second sources prior to publication has become even more important.
“At The Blade, as in newsrooms across the country, it's our job — our most important job — to be accurate. That didn't happen Friday night. It didn't happen again on Saturday night. We messed up. Mistakes were made,” Murray wrote in his apology.
And yet, despite this assertion, Murray has continued to refer to Richardson as a “victim” twice in his column.
Toledo Police Chief George Kral explained on Friday night that police had been looking for the suspect who had robbed four carryouts in Toledo since June 27, and that Richardson not only met the description of the suspect, but he had been named in multiple tips that were called in to Crimestoppers.
He said the Toledo Police Department’s SWAT team had been following Richardson in an effort to catch him in the act of holding up another carryout, WTVG reported.
The video, which the Toledo Blade also had the benefit of reviewing, showed Richardson turned to face police and drew his weapon. He wasn’t trying to run away when he was shot.
But Murray continued to call Richardson a “victim” twice in his apology column after he said the following about the man who was shot by police:
“The next error in judgment on Friday night was the main headline over the story on Page 1 of Saturday's Blade: ‘25-year-old shot dead by police in N. Toledo’ in 64-point bold type, what we call a ‘play head’ reserved for the biggest and most important stories. Although accurate, the headline didn't explain why the police shot the man — that he was a suspect in multiple armed robberies, he was running from police, and that he had a gun.
We heard from many supporters of the police about how unfair the headline was. This was a case where the headline was accurate, but I believe not fair to police because it didn't portray what was really going on. Writing good headlines is one of the hardest things newspapers do, especially on deadline, but that's what we're paid to do, night after night.”
“The next, and bigger error in my opinion, happened Saturday night. The race of the victim and the race of the officer who shot him were included in one of the follow-up stories for Sunday's Page 1. It was not necessary, and it was wrong to include it,” Murray wrote.
And then the next and bigger error after that was calling an armed robbery suspect who pointed a gun at police a victim in a column that was supposed to be an apology for inaccurate news coverage.
Richardson was not a “victim” and to repeatedly refer to him as such is truly not fair to police because it does not portray what actually happened at the corner of Lagrange and Hudson in Toledo on Friday night.
“Many readers were enraged that the story allowed the shooting victim's family to say he had big dreams that were cut short. It's important to allow the family to comment, but to allow them to say what a great guy he was without including his criminal background was wrong,” Murray continued.
Actually, many police supporters, law-abiding citizens, and members of law enforcement reading the Toledo Blade’s backhanded apology were enraged that a column that was supposed to be an apology for almost creating a dangerous riot referred to the wanted fugitive as a “victim.”
“Even though there were more than a dozen reporters, photographers, and editors handling this story, I am responsible for the news that is published by The Blade and I take that job seriously. I'm sorry that mistakes were made,” Murray concluded his column.