Note to Media: The UC Davis “Investigation” is not the Story
The UC Davis story has gone global overnight. Here’s a taste of the morning papers:
- New York Times: UC Davis Calls for Investigation After Pepper Spraying
- BBC News: US University Investigates Campus Pepper Spray Use
- Washington Post: Investigation, Calls for Resignation Follow Spread of Calif. University Pepper Spray Video
- CNN: California University to Investigate Police Use of Pepper Spray
- Los Angeles Times: UC Davis Chief Launches Probe Into Pepper-Spraying of Occupy Protesters
But see what they all did here? They all led with Linda Katehi’s promised investigation of the incident, which she announced in a statement yesterday:
I am forming a task force made of faculty, students and staff to review the events and provide to me a thorough report within 90 days. As part of this, a process will be designed that allows members of the community to express their views on this matter. This report will help inform our policies and processes within the university administration and the Police Department to help us avoid similar outcomes in the future.
That’s it. That’s the entirety of the relevant portion of the statement. No word on how the task force will be constituted, what its composition will be, how its student and faculty members will be chosen. No hint that it will have any actual policymaking authority. And it’s got 90 days before it’s expected to report — does anyone really think that this situation is going to stay static until mid-February? Does anyone think that the release of this report is going to be a major event?
I get why the press is going with this angle for their ledes. It sounds like a big deal. It sounds serious, momentous. And it’s something you can report without seeming to take sides. An investigation! A report! That’s just the thing to get to the bottom of this situation!
But here’s the thing. We’ve already gotten to the bottom of the situation. We know what happened. UC Davis police used unwarranted force on a group of peaceful student demonstrators in violation of university policy, and then top university officials lied about why. That’s the story. That’s the situation. If the task force reports that, they’ll be telling us all what we already know. If they don’t, they’ll be engaging in an act of utterly pointless misrepresentation.
A lot of important stuff happened yesterday. New videos emerged that helped to prove the university’s original cover story false. Katehi was asked to resign, by multiple people in multiple venues, and gave a series of not particularly forceful responses. University officials gave a press conference at which reporters greeted their continuing attempts to justify Friday’s violence with barely concealed scorn. And then Katehi hid from a peaceful crowd for two hours before emerging to slink back to her car in silence and shame.
All that stuff happened. And any of if would make a great lede.