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Published May 03 2012

Mob beating of former Forum reporter in Virginia sparks media firestorm

FARGO – A former Forum reporter who was beaten by a mob has found himself caught in a media firestorm amid claims that his newspaper, The Virginian-Pilot, tried to practice “reverse racism” by burying the incident.

Dave Forster – who wrote for The Forum from 2002 to 2006 – was one of two off-duty Virginian-Pilot reporters attacked by a group of young black men while they drove home from a concert at the Attucks Theatre in Norfolk, Va., 2½ weeks ago.

“I am exhausted talking about it,” Forster told The Forum on Thursday. “The media storm has almost been crazier than the attack.”

According to Virginian-Pilot reports, Forster and Marjon Rostami stopped at a red light while a crowd of more than 100 young people walked along a sidewalk.

Rostami locked her car door, and someone threw a rock at her window. Forster got out of the car to confront the rock-thrower.

Forster said later the move to get out of the car was “an awful decision … a really dumb decision.”

About 30 male teenagers participated in the attack, according to a Tuesday column by Virginian-Pilot writer Michelle Washington. They allegedly punched and kicked Forster, then hit Rostami in the head and scratched her eye as she tried to pull him back into his car.

Forster suffered bruised ribs, a swollen ear and a thumb-sized bump on his head; both reporters missed a week of work.

A day after the incident, Forster searched Twitter for mention of the attack.

“I feel for the white man who got beat up at the light,” one person tweeted.

“I don’t,” wrote another, indicating laughter. “(do it for trayvon martin)”

Martin is the unarmed black teen who died after being shot by a community watch captain in Florida.

Because of tweets like these, the subject has become widely discussed on cable TV news programs like MSNBC and FOX News’ “The O’Reilly Factor.”

Forster told The Forum on Thursday though the national media came calling, he declined to appear on any of the cable TV news programs. Gang-unit police investigators looking into the case asked him not to talk about the actual attack, he said.

A 16-year-old was arrested Thursday in connection with the April 14 incident, the Pilot reported Thursday.

Editors at The Virginian-Pilot were criticized because the first news of the attack appeared in the paper two weeks after the incident when columnist Washington wrote about it.

On Wednesday, the Pilot’s editor, Denis Finley, wrote an editorial in which he said the newspaper had been accused of “reverse racism … that if a group of white people had attacked a black couple, the incident would have been front-page news.”

The newspaper initially didn’t report the incident, Finley said, because it was classified as a simple assault in police reports and the newspaper doesn’t publish stories on simple assaults.

He also said Forster and Rostami initially didn’t want to be named in a news story. “If these were the circumstances with anyone in the community, we would not have done a story,” the editor wrote.

“What would we gain by protecting some thugs who beat up two of our reporters? The accusation is ludicrous,” Finley said.

Forster supports Finley’s comments.

“I was happy the way our paper covered it,” he said. “The police report made it look pretty minimal. It was classified as a simple assault, and it didn’t really capture the extent of it. So they definitely weren’t trying to cover it up in any way.”

In an earlier TV interview, Forster also said accusations of reverse racism were off base.

“To think they were trying to cover up the story because the attackers were black and I was white is just absurd,” he said. “It’s just not true.”