The Dullsvillain

Slinging mud at the media of Dullsville (aka Perth, Western Australia)

Tasered in the face with fire

with 6 comments

At risk of this blog turning into the Taser Times, the latest incident, in which an Aboriginal bloke went up in flames after being tasered, demands coverage.

Apparently, Ronald Mitchell was sniffing petrol at his mother’s house in the desert township of Warburton when two cops arrived. He either walked in the cops’ direction or bolted at them brandishing petrol and a lighter.  He was tasered by one of the cops, and his petrol-soaked face and neck lit on fire. The shooter cop then helped to put the fire out.

The story I read on PerthNow this morning, by Debbie Guest, was entitled:

Ronald Mitchell set on fire in Taser strike in Warburton, WA

That story contained an eyewitness account from Morinda West, a sister of the victim. She tells how her brother’s face burst into flames after the taser hit him on the bridge of the nose.

By this afternoon, the same URL at PerthNow that this morning had contained Guest’s story now contained a completely different story, this time by police reporter Nicole Cox. Read it here.

I bookmarked the original Guest piece this morning, and was confused to find the story by Cox in its place this afternoon. (The original article is still online, but not on PerthNow. I found it here, on the site of another Murdoch rag, The Herald Sun.) But Google doesn’t lie, ya’ll:

google doesn't lie

This Google result is for the URL I bookmarked this morning. It shows the heading of the replacement story by Nicole Cox, but the author is “Debbie Guest” and the stuff in the extract is from Guest’s original story. It’s a hangover from Google’s cache.

Why does this matter? Arguably, it’s not a big deal that PerthNow replaces one bit of copy with another. Maybe the first piece was available earlier, before PerthNow’s Nicole Cox had written her coverage.  In that case, by originally publishing the Guest piece, PerthNow provided the reader with the news ASAP – no harm, no foul.  Except for a couple of things.

For a news source, it’s an Orwellian breach of trust to change history like this. And change history they have. The replacement article carries the softer, de-personalised heading:

Warburton man set alight after being hit with Taser

Note also that this heading goes that extra step to de-couple the use of the taser from the fire.

More importantly, the replacement article fails to mention the victim’s side of the story canvassed in the earlier piece, and it spouts police propaganda (more on that later) like they’re giving it out for free (they are).

All in all, the replacement article is more in line with the shamefully soft coverage from, though The West managed to outdo them all with its original piece:

Man catches fire during arrest

What, the West worry (about tasers)? That title gives “Dog Bites Man” a run for its money in detached reporting that utterly misses the point. And, boy oh boy, it misses the point. The article doesn’t even mention tasers until the fifth paragraph, and there, it’s in a quote from (drumroll) a police spokeswoman. It’s tough to pull key quotes from this junk – you really have to read the piece in full to appreciate just how beautifully it obfuscates the fact that a man was tasered in the face and then his face caught on fire. Here’s the first four paragraphs, though:

A man caught alight in an altercation with police who responded to reports of petrol sniffing in a remote desert community in WA.

Ronald Mitchell, 36, was airlifted to Royal Perth Hospital for burns treatment following a confrontation with police who were called to a house in Warburton, 1540km north-east of Perth on Monday.

Mr Mitchell allegedly ran from the house at the officers carrying a container believed to contain fuel and a cigarette lighter, police said.

He was asked to stop but continued running toward the officers.

He “caught alight in an altercation”. Thanks, WA police public relations department The West Australian.

As bad as this reporting is, the symbiotic relationship between mainstream news and the cops is, well, old news. Police beat journalists have probably always given the cops dick-in-mouth coverage in exchange for news and access. It’s the exact mentality behind stories like this, which not only don’t question the police, but don’t even bother to quote other sources.

But that doesn’t explain or excuse the WA police from blustering onto blood-splattered scenes of potential police brutality and unilaterally declaring, without a shred of evidence, that the police involved acted with justification. Which they seem to do all the fucking time.

Here’s a sample of the unsubstantiated barracking that WA police Commissioner Karl “Nunz the Wiser” O’Callaghan has spouted today:

The only other choice they would have had is to use a police-issue firearm…

I can’t discount (that the Taser sparked the flames) but what I can say is there is a very strong possibility the fire was caused by the lighter in the hand of the offender…

I will be changing no policies in the WA Police in regard to Taser usage and I support what the police officers did in this instance

Where does this bullshit leave Klu Klux Karl if the “internal investigation” reveals that, say, the victim was trying to surrender to police when his face was set on fire with electricity?


6 Responses

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  1. Good stuff Dick , keep up the investigative reporting. Probably best to contact Debbie Guest , if you can.

    Bill O'Slatter

    July 22, 2009 at 10:33 am

    • Thanks Bill. I considered letting them know, but given my past experiences with letter writing to News Ltd (i.e., getting SFA in response), I didn’t bother.

      Might try sending her a cheeky link, though.


      July 23, 2009 at 6:41 pm

  2. Arthur Brown approves.

    Big Ramifications

    July 22, 2009 at 12:46 pm

  3. Whoa, great piece, actually it’s dick is “on fire” hahaha

    Open letter is called for?

    Link is still broken on the Perthnow to the “Punchon” blog where discussion happening about this topic, too.

    Zhu Hongbing

    July 22, 2009 at 10:53 pm

  4. This is unreal stuff. You couldn’t make it up. a man has been sniffing petrol yet the police’s best response is to shoot a giant spark onto him!

    Uncle Mac

    July 24, 2009 at 1:26 am

  5. […] a taser in Warburton, remains in hospital with extensive burns.  In the meantime, The Sunday Times continues its assault on balanced journalism with today’s saucy page 3 […]

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