The St. Louis County police apologized this week for the wording of a flier promoting a seminar meant to help officers “win with the media.”
The phrases “900-pound gorilla” and “feeding the animals” weren’t intended to be racial epithets, seminar leader and police consultant Rick Rosenthal told the Associated Press. The former WGN TV anchor said the terms are “tongue-in-cheek phrases aimed at the media.”
The AP story offers: “[Rosenthal’s] 1999 book, ‘Feeding the Animals,’ deals with how police departments give information to reporters.”
Here’s the official statement from police spokesman Brian Schellman:
Being that the flier was sent by our Police Academy, we apologize for anyone hurt by the wording of the flier. We believe Mr. Rosenthal’s use of the terms “900-pound gorilla” and “feeding the animals” were mentioning police departments from across the nation dealing with the media and meant no racial harm.
St. Louis County and the town of Ferguson, Missouri, have been the focus of a huge amount of media scrutiny since the Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black, by white police officer Darren Wilson. Rosenthal has reportedly led a seminar in St. Louis County almost every year since 2002, but this year was sure to be different.
The area has also seen considerable racial tension. Community leaders who saw the flier for the Oct. 24 seminar at the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy originally thought “gorilla” and “animals” were directed at Ferguson’s majority black population.
Other topics covered by the seminar include, “‘No Comment’ IS a comment,” “Managing Media Assault and Battery,” and “Managing the Media When Things Get Ugly (think Ferguson).”
The prevailing thought here seems to be that racial slurs are bad (which they are), but that using terms like “animals” to describe the press (tongue-in-cheek or not) is OK.
What do you think, PR Daily readers? Are the St. Louis County police doing themselves any favors with the press here?