Gates vs. The Police & The Media = National Firestorm


What We ALL Could Do To Help

Prof. Bob Rucker
teaches students in
the nation's leading journalism
program on the west coast at

how to respectfully & candidly
discuss media
coverage of diverse cultures
and sensitive social issues.

MCOM 105
Diversity & Lifestyles
in the Media

Fall, 2009 Course Case Study
Media coverage following the
July 16, 2009  Cambridge, MA incident



Story Related Videos

7/24  President Obama telephones
Sgt. Crowley to discuss incident

Sirius XM radio:
 Dr. Gates reacts to
President Obama's police comment

Uncut & extended
Dr. Gates audio comments


WBZ-TV 38 Boston
Extended local TV interview with
Sgt. Jim Crowley


FOX News Report:
Challenging President Obama calling Cambridge police action "stupid"


Police Commissioner supports
Sgt. Crowley's arrest of Dr. Gates

Channel 7 Boston - local news
Sgt. Crowley says "No Apology"

and Gates daughter reacts

Katie Davis report


CBS News
Jim Axelrod network TV report

Reviews national debate

Lynn Sweet,
Chicago Sun Times
Washington Bureau Chief

Newspaper reporter surprised
by president  saying police
"acted stupidly"
& public reaction to her question

The story behind her question


7/24/09: Time For The Heavy Lifting To Begin


Gates vs. The Police...
So why the continuing media-fueled drama
over a police dismissed case?

I believe it's because both sides feel they, or one of their own, has been
wrongly "hurt." It's is quite common for human beings to rally together as

family and supporters when there is the perception of a deep wound being inflicted. Americans historically circle the wagons, dig in and fight it out.

Quickly we get lost in positions and arguments difficult to resolve. S
hould the President of the United States have spoken out
without all the facts in hand?


Should the fraternal order of police be using their well known
reputation for closing ranks and protecting to suggest in press
conferences an apology is expected from Gates and Obama?

At this point both sides feel wronged.
Clearly a strong amount of bravado is at play...along with a hefty
dose of "we are TIRED of being treated this way" on
both sides. Certainly many people of color hope the president will not back
down from standing by his close friend. Millions of good and decent black
people willingly stand up for what they think is right largely because that is
what the civil rights movement has taught all of us to do.


It must be said media is also fueling this controversy.
When people are fired up and want to talk about something
we in media usually jump on that, pulling out all the stops.
The problem, however, is this dispute makes understanding
the complicated healthcare reform look like a walk in the park.

Nearly 61 years since President Truman called for those
reforms, and ALL the talk about it since then, we in 2009
finally are ready and willing as a society to expect healthcare 
reform to be done this year.  Usually nothing big or important
happens overnight.


America NEVER wants to talk seriously about race relations.
Police groups nationwide NEVER want to admit to any human weakness,
especially racial profiling. So when the Gates incident exploded
with Pres. Obama's comments, this firestorm outcome seems
VERY predictable. Equally so, don't expect any quick fix. That's
not going to happen. Hurt people want to be heard and 
understood. Staying quiet no longer seems appropriate.


People of color and police have held back their honest thoughts
and true feelings SO LONG, no quickly organized photo op
at the White House can effectively address the need on both
sides to be fully heard. To have that outcome, followed by a
mutual willingness for resolution, we are going to need
time and a three party commitment.


1. We must create safe environments when people can finally
start a candid and continuing dialog on both sides of this issue.
Classrooms like my Diversity in Media class at SJSU, now
well known for finding ways to make this happen, can't be few
and far between anymore.  All schools, institutions, businesses
and governments must find ways to value opening these doors
in a positive and constructive way.


2. The media must stop scratching the surface of these hot issues
then backing off when it gets too challenging. It must stop being
afraid to do what the constitution calls for a free press to do.
Investigate these issues like the Washington Post and 
Walter Cronkite
did with the Watergate break in,  not like TMZ
covers Hollywood. We need more air time and printed space for
a more insightful exchange of intelligent points of view.

A meaningful public service sometimes REQUIRES a
collective media willingness to aggressively compete by
aggressively investigating the history and reasons why the
Gates incidents touches so many nerves.


3. Police officers nationwide and people nationwide must choose
to respectfully, honestly and candidly participate in a learning dialog, 
and stop posturing and taking predictable stances. White people have
feelings to be aired and heard along with all people of color. 


Some members of the police fraternal orders don't always agree that 
racial profile training is enough to resolve the threatening tensions within
their communities. All of us must own up to our attitudes and biases
and stop hiding behind the predictable group alliances and cultural
loyalty defaults. Let's trust in the goodness on both sides of these issues
and talk honestly with one another, then allow new insights to actually sink
in and effect personal and professional judgments.


Pointing fingers and saying mind your own business...or threatening
individual and group sensitivities gets us nowhere.

Expecting apologies instead of real communication and learning
from one another does nothing but raise tensions and make yet
another public firestorm highly likely at any time.

Dr. Gates, President Obama and people of color nationwide
share all police officers desires to have a more friendly, interactive
and trusting public relationship.

Start there. Start talking. Start listening!

Media, be more responsible referees, and stop stoking the fires for the
 sake of ratings and economic survival. Quality mainstream
journalists have a duty to balance out all the citizen journalism
and fiery political commentary with more clarity and focus on 
common and important societal goals.

Don't make the spattering of diversity in media classes nationwide
the only places where people enable candid and respectful interaction
no matter how uncomfortable it gets. You CAN have these discussions
and, as former students tell me, walk with something you remember
that will benefit you the rest of you life.

All people can help create safe havens like this everywhere.
I will be asking the powers that be here at San Jose State
to take lead by showcasing what we do here in one of the most diverse 
campuses in the nation. For decades we have find many creative
ways to bring this hot bottom issues into the classroom with the
understanding by addressing them head on and carefully,
we create a more inviting learning environment for all of our
academic majors and professional endeavors.


Prof. Bob Rucker 
School of Journalism and Mass Communications
San Jose State University



Back to TOP OF THIS PAGE                            Professor Rucker's Home Page