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The racist ‘Karen’ in Central Park story the media hasn’t told

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Christian Cooper via Associated Press / Illustration by Michelle Budge

Last summer Amy Cooper called 911 on a Black man. We were told, in various media reports, that she did this because he asked her to leash her dog in the assigned area.

It begged a question: If you are willing to call 911 on a Black man simply because he asked you to follow the rules, what type of person are you? On Twitter, the hashtag #AmyCooperIsARacist became a hot trending topic. She was eventually fired from her job because her employer said they “do not tolerate racism of any kind.”

Cooper quickly became an avatar for systemic racism — a type of racism that is difficult to define — yet one that certain commentators assured us exists everywhere. Franklin Leonard, the founder of the famous Hollywood Script Black List wondered, “How many times has Amy Cooper said behind closed doors that a Black co-worker ‘made her uncomfortable?’ How many Amy Cooper’s do you have working at your company? In your community? How much damage have they done?”

However, Kmele Foster, co-host of The Fifth Column podcast, recently lifted the lid on the story. According to Foster, Amy Cooper didn’t approach Christian Cooper (no relation) that day in central park, rather he approached her. He approached her in a wooded area and, according to the report, took out dog treats to allegedly try and lure her dog away from her. Before he turned on his camera, Christian Cooper threatened her, according to the report, saying, “Look, if you’re going to do what you want, I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it.”

Christian Cooper apparently has a history of confronting dog owners in this part of the park, including a Black man who described the encounters as “aggressive.”

In the original reporting about this story, perhaps the most concerning evidence against Amy Cooper was that she repeated, in escalating tones, Christian Cooper’s race to the 911 dispatcher. But, according to Foster’s new reporting, Amy Cooper was repeating herself not to emphasize Christian Cooper’s race but because of a bad cellphone connection. The audio from the dispatcher’s side of the conversation seems to support this version of the story.

Nevertheless, not only did major news outlets fail to unearth these salient details, few if any have issued corrections since this reporting has come to light. This silence speaks loudly.

Bari Weiss, who also reported on this issue last week, worked at The New York Times when this story was first reported, but resigned soon after. In her resignation letter, she wrote, “I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative.”

There’s no question that our country has work to do on issues surrounding race and inequality. Indeed, this incident, and the reporting surrounding it, prove that point; they also prove that the truth regarding such matters is often more complex and nuanced than easy narratives admit. And, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, our country was in the throes of a predetermined narrative. When Amy Cooper’s video came to light, and it facially fit into that narrative, the need for journalistic ethics evidently disappeared.

This might all seem too familiar. In January 2019, many media outlets portrayed teenage Trump supporters as taunting Native Americans in Washington, D.C. It fit a predetermined narrative about insensitive Trump supporters, but the actual events that occurred were quite different from what was reported. Some of the teenagers involved in the incident sued for defamation.

Meanwhile, on the other side, some conservatives were quick to claim that the 2020 Democratic National Convention omitted the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, when in fact it was recited in full during each of the main DNC broadcasts.

Today we often hear how troubled we are that Americans are losing faith in our institutions. We hear dismay about attacks on the free press. And while these complaints have merit, if we are to truly heal these problems in our country, the fourth estate must also take seriously its responsibility to promote the truth over existing narratives.

A sincere apology to Amy Cooper might prove to be a good place to start.

Christopher D. Cunningham is the managing editor of Public Square Magazine. Keith Brown is a freelance journalist.