Jeff Zucker Says Change To CNN Report On Baltimore Cop Trial Corrected Mistake Of Context

CNN chief Jeff Zucker took questions from staff today about a change made last night to CNN’s online coverage of the first officer to go on trial in the case of a 25-year-old black man who died after being shackled by Baltimore City police and placed without a seat belt in a cop van.

The online report was blasted Monday because it described victim Freddie Gray as “the son of an illiterate heroin addict.”

At 7:30 PM Monday, those words were removed from the post and these words added:

Editor’s note: A reference to Freddie Gray’s mother was removed from this story because it appeared out of context.

During an internal staff meeting this morning, Zucker took questions about the deletion and the editor’s note. Zucker said the reference to Gray’s mother was a mistake in the context of that specific story; he walked staff through the editorial team’s thought process in making the change; according to a participant. The back-and-forth about the changes were part of a meeting that also covered other topics.

CNN was not breaking news about Gray’s mother in the report; it was the context that caused the uproar. In the article about the first day of jury selection, the second paragraph began by saying, “The April 19 death of Freddie Gray, the son of an illiterate heroin addict, made him a symbol of the black community’s distrust of police. His name is now invoked with those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio; Eric Garner in New York; and other black men who died during encounters with white police officers. In Grey’s case, three of the offers charged are white; three black.”

The reference to Gray’s mother quickly caused critics to foam over, on Twitter:

…and in the media:

Jezebel: Remember folks, if you’re born into difficult circumstances and are later killed by the police, CNN will be there to remind the world of the least relevant details surrounding your death. There is no information about the backgrounds of the parents of the six officers who are charged with killing Freddie Gray.”

Salon: CNN’s ugly, racial victim blaming: A sad low in Freddie Gray coverage.

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