A Tale Of Two Media Narratives Surrounding The Unlawful Detainment Of A BLM Protestor

by William Skink

Last month a man with a gun restrained a protestor in a Missoula alley. Now, over a month later, the City Attorney’s office is filing misdemeanor charges against him for “unlawful restraint”.

What I find interesting about this case is the way the Missoulian has reported what happened compared to how the Missoula Current has reported it.

First, the Missoulian plays the race card in the headline of its article, titled White man charged for unlawfully restraining black teen at BLM rally.

In the Missoulian article, a press release from BLM organizers sent out Wednesday decried the lack of charges. From the link:

The press release stated: “At the courthouse on June 5, 2020 one of our black community members was cornered in an alley by white militia. He was threatened, accused, and afraid for his life. When he tried to get back to safety, he was attacked and detained by MPD. He feared for his life. He has told his story to our city, and has been met with deflection and lack of concern.

“The local city government hasn’t met our calls for accountability and action from the last rally. They are dodging responsibility for the attack on a black member of our community at the courthouse and other attacks and injustices on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color).”

This article seems to make it pretty clear that the white man with a gun was part of the WHITE MILITIA and the black teen was a known protestor with BLM. But is it that cut and dry?

The Missoula Current article paints a very different picture of what happened, and the difference in reporting starts with the MC article NOT immediately playing the race card with its title: Armed man at BLM rally charged with unlawful restraint, acting as security without a license.

Here is how the MC article depicts what went down (emphasis added):

Kanyon Stevens, an event organizer, told police that Belden had stopped and confronted the victim in the alley. Police observed multiple people detaining the victim.

“Multiple Missoula police officers were familiar with (Belden), as he was an armed male who had shown up at the protest daily and assumed a role as security,” the charging documents state. “(Belden) told police that he had been acting as personal security for some of the Black Lives Matter event organizers.”

Stevens and a fellow event organizer confirmed Belden’s claim.

These are two very different depictions of what transpired on June 5th in downtown Missoula.

The Missoulian article relates a more simplistic narrative that highlights the race of the alleged aggressor and the race of the alleged victim: scary white man with gun terrorizes innocent black teenager.

The Missoula Current article relates a more complicated narrative that depicts the white man with a gun as being known by some BLM organizers and even supported in his attempt to identify “outsiders” who may be trying to come into our community to cause trouble.

I would like to think the difference in reporting is because the Missoulian is corporate and therefore more willing to push a simplistic narrative that plays on the biases and fears of its audience, and that the Missoula Current, as a little start-up, is more willing to tell a nuanced narrative, but I suspect the actual reason Kidston’s Current reported this story the way it did is because Kidston was harassed by BLM protestors just a few days previous to this incident.

In Kidston’s “Reporters Notebook” he begins by calling protestors hypocrites in his headline, which reads Missoula protesters harassing local media serve as hypocrites. From the link:

While protesters gathered peacefully Wednesday morning in downtown Missoula, a small group of individuals worked to interfere with the media, urging others to avoid interviews.

The Missoula Current had several interviews interrupted when members of a self-appointed “press control” demanded to know what outlet the reporter – that being me – represented.

Despite being informed of where I worked and what I did – and the fact that I’ve been doing my job for 25 years and for six different papers – they urged protesters not to talk, suggesting I was disguised as a right-wing agitator.

While I don’t have any hair and I shave my head by choice, I’ve never been accused of being a member of the militia. The very stereotypes most demonstrators came to overcome persisted among some members of this small but persistent group.

I’m sorry, but I have to laugh. Poor Martin Kidston was just trying to do what the Missoulian was doing, fitting this local iteration of a national protest movement into the pre-approved packaging of benevolent protestors vs evil white militia men, but then Kidston himself becomes a victim of an unfair stereotype, so he throws a little tantrum and, because of the “harassment” he experiences, apparently decides to relate a more nuanced version of what the Missoulian spit out for its liberal readership.

The difference in how this incident is being reported is a fascinating window into the media’s power to shape narratives for public consumption. If Martin Kidston hadn’t been offended by the supposed BLM hypocrites, I guarantee you his reporting would have been much closer to how the Missoulian is reporting what happened.

It will be interesting to see if this divergence in media narratives continues, or if they eventually get on the same page to demonize the white man with the gun, despite the fact there was apparently more than just one person involved in unlawfully detaining this young protestor.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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1 Response to A Tale Of Two Media Narratives Surrounding The Unlawful Detainment Of A BLM Protestor

  1. Pingback: Complicating The Narrative Of WHITE MAN detains BLACK TEEN in Missoula | Reptile Dysfunction

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