SOUND OFF: One controversial incident, two media depictions | Robert Price


This feedback forum is designed to give readers a way to voice criticisms and compliments or ask questions about The Californian’s news coverage. Your questions — which may be edited for space — are answered here each Saturday by The Californian’s Robert Price.

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Reader: Who should I believe?

The articles about Tatyana Hargrove, written by Harold Pierce, printed in The Californian July 13 and 14, and Danny Morrison’s opinion piece, printed July 14, differed from reports I heard on Channel 58 TV news about this incident. Those differences greatly influence how one views this incident.

Both newspaper accounts said police were looking for a bald black man, weighing about 170 pounds, with a goatee, 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall. But, TV news said the police broadcast only said the suspect was a black man with a machete, carrying a pink backpack. There was no other description of the man. That’s a big difference.

The TV report said the officer saw a black person, carrying a pink backpack. That was Tatanya. She was dressed like a man. Remember, the officer only knew he was looking for a black man carrying a pink backpack.

According to TV, when Tatyana was being treated for her injuries at KMC, nurses mistook her for a man. TV news said it was only after she told the officer her name that he realized she was a woman and said, “that’s not a man’s name.”

Why was she injured? If my memory about the TV report is correct, Tatanya was uncooperative, resisted the officer, and spoke disrespectfully to him. That wasn’t reported in the newspaper by Pierce and Morrison. Why would the officer sic the dog on her if she didn’t resist? If the TV report had it right, why weren’t those facts included in the newspaper accounts?

Pierce and Morrison both made the police look bad. But, if the TV report was true, the police officer was doing his job, based on the information he had at the time.

Reader: If the KBAK Channel 29 reporting on the Tatyana Hargrove case was correct, then the initial stop was reasonable. Our only judgment after that is whether their failure to recognize that she is not a man is enough to prove some kind of bias. And, of course, the escalation of the contact to fighting and K-9 contact is also worth talking about.

I don’t think the Channel 29 reporter made up the data about what the officers knew at the time of the stop. Surely this was based on interviews with the officers, review of police dispatches or 911 calls, and so on.

So we have two competing narratives about this event, and it’s the duty of a journalist to reconcile them. 

Price: The BPD is still trying to sort out this whole thing, and so is the media, The Californian included. Our initial report did in fact say that Hargrove was “arrested … after an officer said he mistook her for a 170-pound bald man suspected of threatening people with a machete.” Officer Christopher Moore didn’t initially have that complete a description, however — but he also wasn’t the only person who assumed he had a man in his custody. Perhaps an hour later, staff at the hospital where Hargrove was taken made the same error, according to a police report. 

In any case, Harold tried to set the record straight in his July 19 story based on his interview with BPD Chief Lyle Martin:

Moore … “was dispatched to Ming Avenue and Ashe Road after receiving reports of a black man wearing a white shirt and a backpack who was threatening employees of a nearby grocery store with a machete.

“Three other police reports that day written by other responding officers provided more detailed descriptions including height, appearance and age range, however it’s unclear if the description was revised over police scanners by the time Moore arrived to the area.

“Moore’s report states he was advised through the police scanner that the suspect was a ‘black male, white shirt, carrying a pink backpack.’”

So, although Moore was acting on a very limited description of the suspect, the officers who fell in behind him for support apparently had more information. Perhaps by the time they arrived, though, a situation had already developed that rendered that more complete description temporarily moot.

I asked Harold to add his 2 cents:

“There were four separate police reports filed the day Tatyana Hargrove was arrested. Three of them included detailed descriptions, and although they varied, they all described him as standing between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet tall; two said he was bald and one said he had a goatee. All of them described him as holding a backpack.

“The only one that didn’t have a detailed description was the one written by Christopher Moore, the officer who arrested Hargrove. He only describes what he heard on police radio, which said the suspect was a ‘black male, white shirt, carrying a pink backpack.’

“That Hargrove spoke disrespectfully to an officer and was being uncooperative wasn’t disputed by this newspaper. We stated in the first story about Hargrove published online Monday that Moore said she didn’t follow orders. According to Moore, Hargrove said to him: ‘What you all stopping another black person for. I’m out of here.’ We reported that.

“We also reported officers’ accounts that Hargrove appeared to put her feet on the pedals and looked ready to flee.”

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Reader: I am impressed with your archives. I’m wistfully sorry I don’t look like that girl on your “Things you need to know” page on July 18. I finally remembered that photo (I’m slow at remembering things now). The Californian used it for a while with columns I wrote from Sacramento during the 70s. Thanks for the happy memory trip.

P.S. I like the balance you’ve brought back to the newspaper. You have a very talented staff of local writers. And I always have respected AP and some of the other wire services. Good variety.

Price: Our Elizabeth Sanchez put together that little roundup of famous local women and dug out that photo of you, Mary, from our archives. I wish we still had you patrolling the halls of the state Capitol, keeping those folks in line.

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Reader: Your July 7 front page has a large picture of Ann Bailey holding up the front page of the Aug. 5, 1998, Californian. On that front page I count five stories. Is it possible to go back to that format, please?

Price: That was a pretty standard weekday (tabloid page) layout for our designers: Bold type adjacent to or superimposed over a large cover photo or art element with, across the bottom, four four-deck “refer” headlines directing readers to other stories inside the paper. A number of variables can affect this template: Is the primary photo especially strong? Is it weak? Is it horizontal, vertical or square? Does a second story demand equal or strong secondary display? Is an advertisement running horizontally across the bottom of the page, or does the top righthand corner have one of those “virtual sticky-note” ads? (Remember the actual sticky-note ads we once had? Readers invariably tore the page trying to remove them. The virtual stickies are better in that regard, but they’re a design challenge.)

The July 7 front page you reference, Chris, was especially striking, even in its simplicity. Felix Adamo’s tilted-horizon photo of Ann Bailey, who lost three family members to the Kern River in 1998, was sobering, and our main headline, “PLEASE STAY OUT,” came straight from her mouth. The photo filled the entire width of the page, leaving the designer with little option but to line up the “refer” headlines in a neat row below.

Our full-size weekend papers are a completely different animal. I stay away from words like “first” and “only,” but I am confident in saying The Californian is the only newspaper in the country that produces both tabloid and broadsheet editions regularly.

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Reader: Regarding your Sound Off column, it appears you just can’t win. I thought all the new columnists displayed were fine. I know who they are and know they have been around for awhile and think they are respectable people. But, there are those obvious left-leaning readers who don’t want another perspective and want to bash conservative or moderate columnists with opinions different from theirs; their choice. I like having a selection of different columnists to read. If I don’t care for a particular column I don’t read it and move on. Thank you for giving your readers a broader choice.

Price: If only more readers subscribed to your approach, Geoff. Don’t like it? Stop reading and move on. We try to give readers a wide range of opinions and perspectives, but many seem to be offended at the mere presence of columnists they don’t agree with. What happened to the marketplace of ideas? Thank you recognizing the importance of giving our readers a broader choice.

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Reader: I thank you for having both Charles Krauthammer and Garrison Keillor in your Opinion section of the paper instead of some of the normal writers that bleed liberal. They don’t understand there was an election where a new president was elected. No matter what they can do it will go on, no matter what dribble they write!

I understand you are going to insert three new writers for the Opinion section and you have my vote for both Krauthammer and Keillor. I listen every day to Mr. Krauthammer on TV. I am from Minnesota and have read Mr. Keillor’s material over the years.

Price: I admire a reader who can get enjoyment from columnists on both sides of the political spectrum; that’s what we have in Krauthammer and Keillor. Neither is part of our three-columnist competition, though. You can expect to see both on a regular basis, especially Krauthammer, who runs every Friday.

The Californian welcomes your comments and suggestions. To offer your input, please call 661-395-7649 and leave your comments in a voicemail message or send an email to soundoff@bakersfield.com. Please include your name and phone number. Phone numbers won’t be published.

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