In the two years that Madison Carter has been an investigative journalist for WKBW, the ABC affiliate in Buffalo, New York, she’s never quite seen a moment like this past summer.
On May 30, she was part of her newsroom’s team covering a protest at City Hall, during the height of the Black Lives Matter rallies following the death of George Floyd. It was during one of these protests a few days later that Buffalo found a moment of notoriety after Buffalo Police Department officers were taped pushing an older man, later identified as Martin Gugino. He was seen lying on his back with what appeared to be blood coming from his ear.
“That was a major event that people were mesmerized by,” Carter says. “People in our community were frustrated because they were like, wait a minute, violence against an older white gentleman is getting this crazy reaction but not when it happens to a person of color? It put Buffalo in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. I think it made things a lot more tense.”
In her investigative reporting during the protests, and as a general personal rule, Cater says she likes to focus on not just what’s happening, but the context around it.
She also credits her approach to covering protests, and providing that context, from time spent in Charlottesville, Virginia following the Unite the Right rally in 2018.
“Charlottesville was my training grounds,” she says. “People who have been around protests typically have been very local, everyone knows who’s leading it, everyone knows what the issues are. Charlottesville was the genesis of outside agitators. Now people think, ‘We can go to someone else’s city and mess things up.’ I don’t want to give people the attention they don’t deserve. Let’s talk about what’s happening.”
When people are being interviewed to discuss what’s happening, however, they often like to deflect and try to point blame in other directions. Take, for example, Carter’s investigative reporting into the actions of the chief of police for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, charged with providing security on Buffalo’s mass transit system and at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
There were stories going around the community that the chief of that force, George Gast, had been seen on security cameras “doing things that didn’t represent police, either an extreme use of force or an abuse of his position,” Carter says. She later learned that rumors of his actions being caught on tape had been circulating for a number of years and that members of local news organizations had been trying to obtain those tapes without luck.
Someone within the organization leaked the footage to Carter. One video showed him “take a plastic bag and swinging it toward this guy who’s drunk and handcuffed already,” she says. Another shows Gast “walking into a room and there’s a handcuffed guy talking to an officer. (Gast) tells the rookie to take the handcuffs off the guy … and told him to put his hands on (Gast). People said this was inappropriate and not OK.”
The NFTA tried to convince Carter not to pursue the story, eventually allowing her to come to the agency’s offices and review the tape herself. She wanted to use the footage to allow viewers to decide whether the conduct of this particular officer was acceptable, especially after learning complaints had been filed and an internal investigation of Gast’s actions ended without any action taken against him.
“I wanted to lay out all the details,” she says. “My reporting is showing people — to me, it’s shocking, but showing how much is legal, how much is allowed in a government agency or police agency. I just wanted to present it to the viewer to let them decide.”
It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell talks with Madison Carter, an investigative journalist for the ABC affiliate in Buffalo, WKBW. They discuss her coverage of Black Lives Matter protests in the city this summer and how she tries to incorporate context in all her reporting.