San Francisco CBS-affiliate KPIX reported that a police officer called a black driver he pulled over the n-word. But the Vallejo, California police officer didn’t and the police provided video to back up its officer. Now, KPIX has retracted its claim.
The original July 8 KPIX story reporting the n-word claim has been deleted, as a link to it now leads to an error page. According to a CBS News story that reported on the KPIX report before it was unpublished, the TV station based its claim on the word of a witness to the police encounter who thought he heard the police officer make the ethnic slur. That same witness took a video of the police encounter, though, which showed the officer didn’t use the n-word. Rather, he said, “hey, David,” the name of the person being pulled over. iMediaEthics has asked KPIX if it had a copy of the full video before it published its claim.
Because of KPIX’s claim, the police department opened an internal affairs investigation, according to a July 10 press release. In that investigation, the police obtained a copy of the witness’s video, which shows the officer didn’t say the n-word. The police then uploaded that video as evidence, after which they called for a retraction and correction of the news report.
Lt. Jeff Bassett, public information officer for the Vallejo Police Department, told iMediaEthics by phone that KPIX didn’t show the department the full video before broadcasting its report, only playing a clip in a news van for a lieutenant. The problem was, he saw, that KPIX thought the ethnic slur was used and took it as a foregone conclusion without fully vetting the claim.
Further, Bassett noted that KPIX didn’t frame it as an accusation against an officer but rather stated as fact the officer said the n-word when he hadn’t. He called it “disappointing” the station didn’t “give the officer the benefit of the doubt, didn’t let us listen to it” in full.
“It did its damage and we had to do a lot of damage control,” Bassett said, explaining the station had to make sure the community knew the facts and the retraction saw the light of day. “Everyone recognizes a lot more people saw the lead story than the retraction a couple days later,” Bassett commented, noting “once it’s out there, you can’t drop back.”
The Vallejo police have been satisfied with KPIX’s retraction of the claim, Bassett said, noting “I think they couldn’t do much more in the way of making it right.” Further, KPIX and the Vallejo police had a meeting this week to smooth things over. Bassett added it seems as though KPIX is “taking it seriously,” and noted, “They probably did as much damage to themselves as they did to us.”
KPIX’s full on-air retraction stated:
“An update on a story we told you about this weekend: It’s that of a Vallejo police department officer. We reported that he used a racial slur when addressing a carjacking suspect during a vehicle stop. Now, after further review of mobile phone video of the incident, it turns out the police officer didn’t use any racial slur but the officer does remain on administrative leave pending an investigation into his overall conduct during the stop. the suspect in the vehicle is in custody and has been charged with carjacking.”
The statement was posted on the KPIX website, labeled as an “update” not a correction or retraction.
The police department also posted a video of the KPIX correction on its Facebook page, adding, “The Vallejo Police Department thanks you for correcting this error in reporting.”