AP tweets police claim on Britney Spears/Victor Wembanyama incident after video emerges, takes criticism

Over the past decade in particular, there’s been a notable trend of media accounts based on law enforcement sources that then are brought into question. Sometimes, those questions come from eyewitness accounts or other evidence strongly disputing the official law enforcement story. Other times, it’s actual video that comes out, allowing the rest of the world to come to their own interpretations. And those are often quite different from the law enforcement claims, with the ongoing Britney Spears-Victor Wembanyama situation the latest case in point there.

On Friday, a number of media accounts (including the widely-syndicated Associated Press) relayed a Las Vegas Police claim that surveillance video “shows Britney Spears inadvertently hit herself in the face in Las Vegas Wembanyama encounter,” and did so without any level of skepticism of that police source. But shortly after the initial publication of those stories, TMZ released the actual video.

At the very best, that video raises questions about the “inadvertently hit herself in the face” description. It shows at least the security figure hitting Spears’ arm (and possibly more; the angle makes it difficult to see the degree of contact he made with her) and knocking her arm into her face. Oh, and the video also refutes San Antonio Spurs’ draft pick Wembanyama’s claim that someone “grabbed me from behind.” It shows Spears placing her hand on him, but in a way far from a “grab”:

?VIDEO OF BRITNEY/WEMBY INCIDENT SHOWS SHE DIDN’T GRAB HIM? Full video here: https://t.co/nSXYAE6jhu pic.twitter.com/uMBqtLKJGN

— TMZ (@TMZ) July 7, 2023

However, shortly after TMZ published that video (which they put on their site at 1:53 p.m. Eastern and tweeted 18 minutes later), the main Associated Press account retweeted their AP Sports sub-brand’s story on the matter (initially published at 12:42 p.m. Eastern, before the video came out). That story, from AP basketball writer Tim Reynolds, only cited law enforcement claims, taking them at face value. And despite actual video being available as of 2:15 p.m. Eastern, the AP included no link to that video as of 5 p.m. Eastern, presenting their readers with only law enforcement claims rather than video evidence where they could make their own judgments.

BREAKING: No charges will be filed in the altercation between Britney Spears and Victor Wembanyama’s security, police say. https://t.co/5Gt6Zqv8DR

— AP Sports (@AP_Sports) July 7, 2023

And that led to a lot of Twitter criticism for them. Here’s some of that:

That ain’t what the TMZ obtained video shows https://t.co/I6ukS3Sjok

— Rent’em Spoons (@Taa_stee) July 7, 2023

I actually forgot about this part.

That police explanation didn’t even hold up for one (1) business day. https://t.co/mc0lTiC6Fx

— Christian Lukens (@ChristianLukens) July 7, 2023

Wemby may not have done anything wrong physically, but in his summer camp interview yesterday he was adamant/confident he was grabbed from behind (likely at the prompting of his security team) — this video proves that to be false. Everyone owes Britney an apology. https://t.co/JAALLMRp2D

— Serena’s Racquet (@kendalljamaal) July 7, 2023

Here’s some of the AP piece on this incident:

No charges will be filed following a brief investigation of the altercation involving pop star Britney Spears, San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama and a member of the player’s security team, Las Vegas police said Friday after determining she inadvertently “hit herself in the face.”

Spears said she was struck by a security guard as she tried to approach Wembanyama near a restaurant in a Las Vegas casino complex on Wednesday night. Wembanyama said a person, who he later found out was Spears, grabbed him from behind.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said Spears had actually struck herself when someone pushed her hand off Wembanyama as she reached up to tap the No. 1 overall pick.

In its investigation, which is now over, police determined that the security guard did not willfully or unlawfully use force or violence against Spears. No arrests were made and no one was cited, the report said.

In the report, police said surveillance footage of the event “showed Britney going to tap the Spurs player on the shoulder. When she touched the player (redacted) pushes her hand off of the player without looking which causes Britney’s hand to hit herself in the face.”

The sheer credulity given there to police sources, without any level of questioning, is interesting. And it’s particularly interesting as information to keep up without a link to the now-actually-public video. And it’s also notable to see this in the NBA, which very recently had a highly-prominent case where video and eyewitness testimony refuted law enforcement/security claims, specifically those from a sheriff’s deputy working security at the 2019 NBA Finals.

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What happened in that case? Well, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, where deputy in question Alan Strickland worked, initially claimed Toronto Raptors’ president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri “pushed and struck” Strickland over a credentialling dispute. But Strickland’s claims were immediately disputed by eyewitnesses and videos, and the county district attorney eventually declined to file charges.

Strickland then launched a civil suit claiming Ujiri’s actions meant he “suffered, and will continue to suffer, physical, mental, emotional, and economic injuries,” including “injuries to his head, jaw, chin and teeth.” But Ujiri countersued, and that led to the release of Strickland’s bodycam footage. And that footage so thoroughly refuted the claims from Strickland and the sheriff’s office that he dropped his suit. And even NBA commissioner Adam Silver wound up having to make a very public mea culpa to Ujiri for believing the law enforcement accounts of the incident without question, saying “I should have known better, as a lawyer, not to comment on a pending investigation.”

How’s that relate to Spears-Wembanyama? Well, this isn’t a pending investigation, with the Las Vegas police opting not to file charges. And media members aren’t lawyers, apart from all the ones who are. But media members should also know better than to offer such levels of unopposed editorial comment from law enforcement figures on what’s in a video without actually viewing the video.

And the wider AP editorial leadership should have, at the very least, added a link to the public video (again, live before the full @AP account retweeted this) into their story. That would have let readers judge for themselves if the law enforcement portrayal of it was accurate. Instead, the AP presented the police department’s account as unquestionable gospel. (And, it should be noted, the Ujiri case is far from the only one where law enforcement claims about a situation or a video have proven wildly inaccurate. It’s just a very relevant NBA case.)

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None of this is necessarily an argument that Spears’ claim should have led to the filing of criminal charges against Wembanyama’s security. That’s a complicated discussion, and there are always many factors involved in the actual filing of charges. Those include an estimation of the probability of success, and it’s far from clear that the actions from Wembanyama’s security would have led to a successful criminal prosecution.

And the discussions of whether the behavior here from Spears and Wembanyama’s security was appropriate or not go well beyond the media-focused scope of this site. But what is well within that scope is discussion of how the AP handled this. And the incredible credulity they gave to unsupported law enforcement claims about the content of a video, both before and after the publication of the actual video, is not a great look for them.

[The Associated Press]