Media Critical of Law Enforcement Per New Study

Highlights The media is shifting to a more critical view of law enforcement, Police Quarterly. If we are so good, then why is much of the news about us so negative? Second of two articles, see Crime in America. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and […]

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Highlights The media is shifting to a more critical view of law enforcement, Police Quarterly. If we are so good, then why is much of the news about us so negative? Second of two articles, see Crime in America. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and […]

The post Media Critical of Law Enforcement Per New Study appeared first on Crime in America.Net.


How Well Does the US Media Cover Criminal Justice?

 The verdict is mixed, according to The Crime Report’s annual survey released Friday. Despite some bright spots, continued layoffs and closures have forced many smaller news outlets to reduce their coverage, leaving millions of Americans in the dark about the practices of local courts, law enforcement and justice agencies.

Even as crime news—from mass shootings to the continued fallout from the #MeToo movement—dominate national media coverage, the continued drop in coverage of local justice issues threatens to leave millions of Americans in the dark about the practices and problems of the U.S. justice system, according to The Crime Report’s annual survey of criminal justice coverage.

Layoffs or closures in many mid-market or small outlets across the U.S., and the recent bloodletting in online news sites like BuzzFeed News and Huffpost, have affected the news media’s ability to fulfill the crucial watchdog role over courts, police and justice agencies in many communities, the survey concluded.

The U.S. justice system overwhelmingly comprises players who operate in state, county and municipal jurisdictions, where policies and practices directly affect millions of people.

“Budget and staffing pressures have forced  many outlets to combine traditional justice beats with others and to reduce deep-dive reporting on local justice issues,”said  the survey, prepared by Ted Gest, president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report.

The number of employees in newspaper newsrooms fell 45 percent between 2008 and 2017, from about 71,000 to 39,000, a Pew Research Center study reported last summer.

Commenting on the Pew findings, media critic Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post wrote, “One problem with losing local coverage is that we never know what we don’t know. Corruption can flourish, taxes can rise, public officials can indulge their worst impulses.”

The survey was based in part on a a conference call conducted by Criminal Justice Journalists with criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University; William Freivogel of Southern Illinois University and the Gateway Journalism Review; Roger Goldman of Saint Louis University School of Law; and Dan Shelley of the Radio Television Digital News Association, with contributions by Marea Mannion of Pennsylvania State University and Brandt Williams of Minnesota Public Radio.

The survey was produced with the support of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.

Although it focused on coverage during 2018, the survey noted that “the workforce problem shows every signs of continuing this year.”

Despite the grim outlook, the report noted some “bright spots.”

Several local news outlets produced fine coverage of important subjects in their areas, such as the prize-winning Cincinnati Enquirer’s reporting on the opioid overdose crisis in that hard-hit area, the Miami Herald’s investigations of abuse of inmates in Florida prisons, and the Houston Chronicle’s stories on similar problems in the sprawling Texas prison system.

“Some of the smallest outlets, mostly in rural areas, have demonstrated enthusiasm for reporting on the rural jail crisis and opioid overdose deaths,” the survey added, citing for example the “impressive collection of stories” produced following a training program for rural media on covering justice issues, particularly the jail crisis, in the “heartland,” organized by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice (CMCJ), publisher of The Crime Report, at John Jay College.

Those stories can be read here.

Turning to the national landscape, the survey cited an Associated Press survey of editors, which found that criminal justice issues were involved in five of the six top news stories of 2018, topped by the Parkland, Fl., school shooting on Valentine’s Day 2018 that led to a national student movement for gun control.

‘Progressive Prosecutors’

The one other story in the leading half-dozen was the 2018 midterm elections, which was marked by special media attention to the emergence of a new wave of “progressive” prosecutors from both parties, whose actions will come under increased attention over the next several years.

The survey noted that the quality of reporting is generally high.

“The CMCJ continues to receive dozens of high-quality entries in its annual competition for prizes for the best coverage during the previous year, so it should be clear that there is plenty of good reporting going on in this important area,” it said.

Editor’s Note: Winners of the 2018 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Awards for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting will be recognized at a prize dinner next week. Their stories can be found here.

But, citing the analysis by the Post’s Margaret Sullivan, the survey said much of the local coverage revolves around “scandals” in a particular city or region; nevertheless readers still have little information about the day-to-day problems and issues related to “basic operations of the criminal justice system,” which arguably have a larger impact on their lives and the lives of their families.

“On a broader scale, it is fairly rare to see the news media produce serious stories about what causes the high level of violence that continues around the nation, even while rates of reported crime clearly are lower than they were in the 1990s,” the report said.

The survey noted a forthcoming book by Thomas Abt of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, a former U.S. Justice Department anti-crime official, entitled “Bleeding Out,”  which faults the media for not paying enough attention to the underlying issues of violence.

According to Abt, “In [today’s] sensationalized, polarized environment, evenhanded stories about everyday violence often find it hard to compete for attention. And it is these stories that can celebrate the successes of treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy and explore the science supporting them.

“The media—mainstream, new, and social—must do a better job of getting the word out on such stories.”

While some local newspapers and television stations do run occasional feature stories on projects aimed at the violence problem, the fact that overall crime rates around the U.S. are not so high as they have been in past decades means that the media typically do not focus on the issue unless there is clear increase in law-breaking in their circulation areas, the survey said.

Read the full survey here.

Readers’ comments welcome.


Parkland Anniversary Stirs Debate on ‘Copycats’ Inspired by Mass Shooting Coverage

The Columbia Journalism Review says a “growing chorus of voices” is urging the media to rethink the way they approach mass shootings. One media critic says journalists should work to minimize the possibility of copycat shooters.

A growing chorus of voices, including survivors, victims’ families, and researchers, is urging the news media to rethink the way they approach mass shootings, including those that occur at K-12 campuses and colleges, Emily Richmond of the Education Writers Association writes in the Columbia Journalism Review. 

Education writers often are the newsroom’s equivalent of first responders to school shootings. Richmond says, “It’s time for those reporters to take the lead to ensure their newsrooms include standards and practices for covering school shootings responsibly, with an eye toward fully informing the public while minimizing the potential for harm.”

Richmond cites criticism by criminologist Adam Lankford of the University of Alabama, who says that news coverage focusing attention on the shooter “is facilitating and fueling subcultures with people who are disturbed and troubled.” affected by prior mass shootings, have made similar pleas.

The “No Notoriety” campaign created after the 2012 Aurora, Co., movie theater mass shooting, urges the media to limit the use of a shooter’s name and likeness. The group’s recommendations include using the perpetrator’s name only once per story “as a reference point,” and never publishing “self-serving statements, photos, videos, and/or other manifestos made by the individual.”

However, Kelly McBride, media ethicist for the Florida-based Poynter Institute, says that blackouts on the shooter’s name by responsible media will only drive people to the darker corners of the internet looking for more— and often faulty—information. She adds, “We have an absolute moral obligation to minimize copycat shooters, and the way to do that is to be very intentional about when we use the name and when we run a photo or use a video.”

Additional Reading: Journalists, Mass Shootings and the Copycat Effect

Parkland Shooting One Year Later: A Lesson for the Media


Parkland Shooting One Year Later: A Lesson for the Media

As the first anniversary of the Parkland, Fl.,school massacre nears, two researchers offer some suggestions for how media coverage of mass shooting can avoid the “copycat” phenomenon.

On Feb. 14, the nation will mark the first anniversary of the high school shooting in Parkland, Fl., that claimed the precious lives of 17 students and teachers. In the year following that massacre, there were at least 53 additional incidents of gunfire on high school and college campuses around the country.

As Americans learned the names and saw the faces of these killers and victims, fear and outrage grew.

The 24-hour news coverage of the Parkland massacre was typical, and seemingly based on the assumptions of reporters and TV news producers that consumers are drawn to stories of mass murder because of morbid curiosity. Thus, much of the Parkland coverage focused on the killer’s background and apparent motivation, as well as the plight of his victims.

The grisly scenes of mass carnage, the videos of students running for their lives from the school building, and the tearful responses of the victims’ families and friends undoubtedly aroused collective empathy among news consumers around the country.

Many audience members surely identified with the innocent victims and their families, and also looked to news reports for “red flags” that might prevent future attacks. The problem, though, is that excessive attention to a mass murderer and his victims also fuels the dreaded copycat phenomenon.

In addition to those who sympathize with the victims, unfortunately there are at least a few in the audience who identify with the killer. In these cases, they sadistically enjoy viewing the grisly consequences of a school shooting while studying the details, perhaps in hopes of replicating (or even outdoing) that violence elsewhere in the future.

In this way, news reports about a mass murder may serve as a training session for potential killers who use the tragic circumstances of a school massacre as inspiration.

For nearly 20 years, school shooters in countries around the world have referred to the April 20, 1999 slaughter at Columbine High School as their model for gaining fame and enacting revenge. Some killers, particularly those who do not expect to survive their planned attack, leave behind letters, manifestos, photographs and videos that explain their rationale, often in hopes of media outlets around the world publishing their material.

*The killers who intend to survive may envision their name in the headlines, their image on TV, or perhaps even a documentary about their life. Some killers just want to be recognized and remembered — to live on in infamy — and often that’s exactly what we give them.

As part of efforts to combat these dangerous messages in U.S. news stories and to lessen the inspiration for would-be murderers seeking fame, several crime scholars have applied increasing pressure on news media outlets to change the ways they cover incidents of mass murder.

Stop Publishing Killer’s Name?

Criminologists Adam Lankford and Eric Madfis proposed that news organizations stop publishing the names and photographs of these killers, and the “No Notoriety” campaign adds to that list killers’ self-created content like videos, artwork, and manifestos. The idea is to eliminate the potential for recognition or fame that motivates many of these killers.

It seems that some journalists are heeding the call, as the killer’s name was sparingly used in reports about the Parkland school massacre.

Moreover, CNN’s Anderson Cooper has indicated he will avoid the names and identifying characteristics in future coverage of high-profile mass shootings.

An alternative avenue for news outlets is to focus more coverage on the heroic responders who are involved in mass murder incidents, such as students, faculty, staff members and security personnel who demonstrate bravery in dire circumstances.

It appears that there were more than a few heroes at the Parkland school when the shooting began, including the janitor who ushered numerous students out of the hallway, the 15-year-old student who died holding the door open so that others could escape, the football coach who lost his life after stepping in front of the killer’s bullets to protect students, and the geography teacher who shielded his students from gunfire.

Crime has long been one of the most widely followed news topics, so news outlets may hesitate to change their coverage because of concerns about declining sales. Yet public interest in crime news does not necessarily mean that consumers are getting what they want from that coverage.

An Experiment

In fact, we recently published an experiment that was designed to examine the source of consumer interest in news about extreme acts of fatal violence, and the findings produced some potentially important, if counterintuitive, results.

Jack Levin

Jack Levin

We first developed three versions of a hypothetical news story about a massacre at a high school, including photographs (one of a teenage boy and one of a school building with students filing out), headlines, a pull quote, and a paragraph of the story.  All versions included identical elements and differed only by the story focus: One centered on the life of the killer, one on the killer’s first victim, and one on a courageous student who helped to save lives.

The versions were randomly assigned to more than 200 respondents so that one-third read about the mass killer, one-third read about the victim, and one-third read about the heroic student. All respondents were then asked whether they wanted to read more of the news story.

Our findings revealed that respondents were significantly more interested in reading about the heroic efforts of a student who saved lives, compared to stories about the killer or one of his victims.

Our study suggests that sensational reporting that contains grisly details of a heinous crime may actually repel consumers who are more interested in learning about heroic behavior at the crime scene.

Julie Wiest

Julie Wiest

Moreover, focusing on heroism at the site of a horrific school shooting may offer an additional advantage for society: If the copycat effect works to inspire potential killers, it might also work to motivate rescuers who risk their lives to save others.

 Levin is professor emeritus and co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Northeastern University. Wiest is an associate professor of sociology at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. They are co-authors of The Allure of Premeditated Murder, published in 2018. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Does Media Reporting on Prisons ‘Dehumanize’ Inmates?

Critics complain about widespread media reports that federal inmates had special Christmas meals while guards were unpaid during the shutdown. A former inmate says, “If yo had stopped the meals, it would have had no impact on the shutdown.”

This month, USA Today had a scoop. Federal prisoners in Florida, it seemed, had received extra-special meals on Christmas and New Year’s Day: meat, mac and cheese, potatoes, rice, and pie. Federal workers serving the meals were feeling the strain of the government shutdown. “Federal inmates feast on Cornish hens, steak as prison guards labor without pay,” read the headline. “This is appalling,” one guard said. “We’re not getting paid, and the inmates are eating steak. … Joshua Hoe, a criminal justice reform advocate and host of the Decarceration Nation podcast, complained that the article’s premise was that prisoners did not deserve these meals, says the Columbia Journalism Review.

Hoe, a former inmate himself, said, “If you had stopped the meals, it would have had no impact on the shutdown. They’re just making punching bags out of the prisoners.” Hoe saw similar pieces in other outlets about prisons in other states, including the Washington Post and NBC News, featuring some of the same sources and similarly cartoonish imagery. Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative says much mainstream media prison reporting is “misleading and dehumanizing” and “presented with no context or insight.” At a time when the flaws in our criminal justice system are well-known, advocates say a shift in how the media covers prison and people impacted by incarceration is long overdue, says the journalism review. When it comes to matters like murder, suicide, and abuse, which are common in prisons, Stevenson says that, “Instead of reporting in a way that exposes the tragedy of prison violence, we get headlines like, ‘Convicted rapist stabbed to death,’ The media presents the victim as if he could only be the crime he was convicted of. It happens all the time, over and over again.”


Investigations of US Coast Guard, MS-13 Win John Jay Justice Reporting Awards

Seth Freed Wessler of Type Investigations and ProPublica’s Hannah Dreier earned top honors for their work in the nation’s most prestigious annual competition for criminal justice reporting. They’ll receive the awards at a dinner Feb. 21.

Seth Freed Wessler of Type Investigations, and Hannah Dreier of ProPublica are the winners of the 14th annual John Jay College/Harry Frank Guggenheim 2019 Awards for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting, Karol V. Mason, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, announced Monday.

“The enterprise and hard work of these journalists paid off with some powerful criminal justice stories,” said President Mason. “Independent reporters and the thorough investigations they conduct are a cornerstone in protecting the freedoms and rights of all Americans.

“In addition, these Harry Frank Guggenheim Award winners make clear the continuing importance of media in helping Americans understand today’s criminal justice challenges.”

The prizes, administered by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice (CMCJ), publisher of The Crime Report, recognize the previous year’s best print and online justice reporting in a U.S.-based media outlet between November 2017 and October 2018. Winning entries in each of the two categories share a cash award of $1,500 and a plaque. Runners-up (see below) receive certificates of Honorable Mention.

The 2019 Winners:

 Seth Freed Wessler

Seth Wessler

Seth Freed Wessler

Seth Freed Wessler, reporting for Type Investigations (formerly The Investigative Fund) has won the 2019 John Jay Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award (Single-Story Category) for “The Coast Guard’s Floating Guantánamos,” an investigation of the little-known practice of detaining low-level drug smugglers under reportedly inhumane conditions on U.S. Coast Guard cutters offshore. His reporting was originally published by The New York Times Magazine and then amplified with new reporting in collaboration with The Current on CBC, Canada’s national broadcasting network.

Wessler’s year-long investigation involved culling thousands of pages of court filings and interviewing or corresponding with more than two dozen former detainees in U.S. prisons and in Ecuador. The result was “an entirely original and shocking story of government overreach,” commented one of this year’s jurors. Editor Esther Kaplan said the Coast Guard, “seemingly” in response to Wessler’s reporting, has since proposed using a dedicated prison ship to hold detainees, and she noted Canada has launched an investigation into allegations of mistreatment.

Hannah Dreier

Hannah Dreier of ProPublica won the 2019 John Jay Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award (Series Category) for her multi-part and multi-media investigation of flawed federal and local law enforcement practices in the struggle against the notorious MS-13 gang. Her first story, “A Betrayal,” published in collaboration with New York magazine, chronicled the tragedy of Henry, a teenager who had helped police arrest fellow gang members only to have his life endangered when law enforcement turned over his file to immigration authorities.

Hannah Dreier

Hannah Dreier

A second story, “The Disappeared,” in partnership with Newsday and This American Life, described the failure by local law enforcement to adequately investigate the murder by the gang of 15-year-old Miguel. Both cases illustrated the “carelessness and indifference” of authorities in dealing with the casualties of America’s stepped-up campaign against MS-13, said ProPublica Editor-in-Chief Stephen Engelberg in his nomination letter.

Both stores can be downloaded here.

Dreier’s articles had “extraordinary impact,” Engelberg added, noting that the Suffolk County, N.Y., police had launched an investigation into the mishandling of the investigations into the deaths of Miguel and others. “Hundreds of readers reached out to Henry offering jobs and a home…the Department of Homeland Security opened a civil rights investigation, and ICE said it would stop creating detailed gang memos.”


Two compelling investigative pieces from The Marshall Project (TMP) tied for this year’s Runner-Up place in the single-story category

 Alysia Santo was honored for a path-breaking year-long investigation into the operation of state victim compensation funds, and Joseph Neff earned the award for his investigation into the wrongful conviction, exoneration—and its tragic aftermath—of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, two intellectually disabled half-brothers found innocent of a rape-murder charge after spending 30 years on North Carolina’s Death Row.

Alysia Santo
Alysia Santo

Alysia Santo

Alysia Santo’s story, “The Victims Who Don’t Count,” was published in USA Today and reprinted in 20 regional newspapers; and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting broadcast a 25-minute radio story on 460 public radio stations. Her exposé “showed for the first time that the rules governing the disbursement of victim’s compensation disproportionately hurt black crime victims,” TMP Editor Bill Keller said in his nomination letter.

Joseph Neff

Joseph Neff’s story, “The Price of Innocence,” which also appeared in The New York Times, explored how the two brothers were exploited by lawyers and supposed advocates after they were released.

Joseph Neff

Joseph Neff

Follow-ups on the story by WRAL-TV, the NBC affiliate in Raleigh-Durham, helped draw attention to their plight and led to an investigation by the North Carolina State Bar.

Not only did Neff’s reporting bring to light “one of the worst” examples of exoneree exploitation, but it highlighted a previously un-reported nationwide issue, Keller said: “Few states offer any post-release services or protection to the innocent, (and) those with disabilities or dysfunctional families shouldn’t have to rely on a diligent reporter to obtain the protection they need.”

Madeleine Baran, et al.

A team of investigative reporters and producers at American Public Media Reports was awarded the Runner-Up prize in the Series Category for their 11-episode project investigating the case of Curtis Flowers, a black man in Mississippi who is on Death Row for a murder he claims he didn’t commit. Based in Mississippi for nearly a year, the team produced their series for the second season of “In the Dark,” revealing misconduct by the local district attorney, as well as a 25-year pattern of malfeasance that included systematically striking African Americans from jury trials.

Madeline Baran

Madeline Baran

“Our reporting reached millions of people and sparked conversations about the power of prosecutors, and the ways in which prosecutors can abuse that power,” wrote APM Reports editor Catherine Winter in her nomination letter, noting that the “In the Dark” podcasts have been downloaded by more than 31 million people. APM reporter Madeleine Baran will receive the Honorable Mention certificate in the name of APM’s 10-person reporting team.

 Prize Jury

 The jurors for this year’s prize were:

  • Alexa Capeloto, Associate Professor, John Jay College
  • Joe Domanick, Associate Director, CMCJ;
  • Ted Gest, President, Criminal Justice Journalists;
  • Ann Givens, of The Trace;
  • Katti Gray, contributing editor, The Crime Report;
  • Mark Obbie, a criminal justice writer and former executive editor of American Lawyer; and
  • Spencer Woodman of The Chicago Reader (co-winner of the 2018 Journalism Prize in the Single-Story Category) and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Wren Longno served as Administrator of this year’s awards.

Dinner Feb 21

The awards will be presented February 21, 2019 at a dinner in New York City, held in conjunction with the 14th annual John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America.

The dinner will also honor pioneer podcasters Sarah Koenig of Serial and Brittany Packnett of Pod Save the People as this year’s “Justice Media Trailblazers.”

Reservations for the dinner can be made here.

The awards will be presented by John Jay President Karol Mason, Serial co-producer Julie Snyder, Brooklyn NY activist Blair Imani, and emcee Errol Louis of NY1.

John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium

The awards dinner is the cornerstone event of the 14th Annual Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City February 21-22, 2019.

The symposium, Violence in America: Myth and Reality, will examine challenges of the changing environment for criminal justice reform in 2019.

Speakers include:

  • George Gascon, San Francisco District Attorney;
  • The Hon. Gurbir Grewal, New Jersey Attorney General;
  • Sen. Larry Obhof, President, Ohio State Senate;
  • Daniel Isom, former St. Louis police chief;
  • Stephanie Ueberall, director of the Violence Prevention Program of the NYC Citizens Crime Commission; and
  • Prof. Issa Kohler-Hausmann, Yale Law School, author of “Misdemeanorland.”

The symposium, administered by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College (publisher of The Crime Report) is the only national gathering that brings together journalists, legislators, policymakers, scholars and practitioners for candid on-the-record discussions on emerging issues of U.S. criminal justice. The conference is open to the public, but a one-time fee of $25 is required for attendance at the on-the-record symposium.

For a full list of speakers, and to register for the conference, please click here

Overall support for the conference and fellowships comes from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project, the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and others.


Twenty-nine U.S. journalists from print, online and broadcast outlets have also been awarded Reporting Fellowships to attend the 14th annual John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America, including five who have received special investigative fellowships from the Quattrone Center on the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School for projects examining systemic issues in the justice system.

The unique fellowships are aimed at encouraging and promoting top-quality journalism on criminal justice. The Fellows were selected from a wide pool of applicants based on editors’ recommendations, and on investigative reporting projects underway or in the planning stage.

A full list of the John Jay/Guggenheim and Quattrone Reporting Fellows is below.


 (in Alphabetical Order)

 Ron Berler, freelance
Deven Clarke,
KSAT News12
Rachel de Leon,
Ron Denham,
Tim Eigo,
Arizona Attorney
Karl Etters, Tallahassee Democrat
Andrew Ford, USA Today Network
Dan Glaun, MassLive
Megan Guza,
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Gary Harki, Virginian Pilot
Emily Harris, Reveal/CIR
Katie Moore,
Topeka Capital Journal
Patricia Murphy,
KUOW Seattle
Tom Olsen,
Duluth News-Tribune 
Julie Reynolds Martinez, Voices of Monterrey Bay
Kayla Rivera, freelance
Elise Schmelzer,
Denver Post
Frank Schultz,
Janesville Gazette
Skyler Swisher,
South Fla Sun Sentinel
Almudena Toral,
Kathryn Varn,
Tampa Bay Times
Josh Vaughn, The Sentinel
Paula Ward.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Charlotte West,


 (in Alphabetical Order)

Josh Brodesky, San Antonio Exp News
Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio
Michael Sainato,
freelance/The Guardian
Mary Sanchez, Flatland
Olivia P. Tallet, Houston Chronicle


The Groveland Four: Racism, ‘Miscarriage of Justice’ and the Press

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pardon of four young black men wrongly accused in 1949 of raping a white woman recalls the insidious role played by the media at the time.

Belated mea culpas were issued last week to the Groveland Four, young black men subjected to racist vigilantism following a dubious rape allegation 70 years ago in Florida.

On Friday, the Florida Board of Executive Clemency pardoned the men, two years after their descendants received an official apology from the state legislature.

“I don’t know that there’s any way you can look at this case and think that those ideals of justice were satisfied,”  said Florida Gov. DeSantis.

“Indeed, they were perverted time and time again, and I think the way this was carried out was a miscarriage of justice.”

The Orlando Sentinel, whose vitriolic owner was the spearhead of inciteful press coverage, weighed in with an apology of its own:

“We’re sorry for the Orlando Sentinel’s role in this injustice. We’re sorry that the newspaper at the time did between little and nothing to seek the truth. We’re sorry that our coverage of the event and its aftermath lent credibility to the cover-up and the official, racist narrative.”

The pardon came after a dramatic, hour-long meeting  during which the families of the men accused of the assault told DeSantis and his three-member Cabinet – meeting as the clemency board – that there is overwhelming evidence the men were innocent and there was no rape, reported USA Today.

The woman, who was 17 when she said she was raped, sat in a wheelchair and later told Gov. DeSantis and the Cabinet the rape did indeed happen, saying she was dragged from a car, had a gun put to her head and was told not to scream or they would “blow your brains out.”

At one point, the two sides briefly clashed. Beverly Robinson, a niece of one of the Groveland Four, was speaking to the governor and the Cabinet when she turned to the woman and her sons.

“It never happened. You all are liars,” Robinson said.

“That’s enough out of you,” the woman said.

“I know it’s enough out of me. It’s always enough when you’re telling the truth,” Robinson replied.

Five years ago, TCR’s David J. Krajicek looked into journalism’s role in the case—both the rabid local coverage and the crucial attention from northern newspapers that shed light on the scandal.

His report, part of a series of case studies commissioned by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice, examining “how ‘mob journalism’ and media ‘tunnel vision’ turn journalists into tools of the prosecution,” was published in February 2014.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded here.


Orlando Sentinel Apologizes for Coverage of 1949 Rape

In an editorial, the Orlando Sentinel apologized for its coverage 70 years ago of four black men accused of raping a white woman. The newspaper said, “We’re sorry for the Orlando Sentinel’s role in this injustice. We’re sorry that the newspaper at the time did between little and nothing to seek the truth.”

In an editorial, the Orlando Sentinel apologized for its coverage 70 years ago of four black men accused of raping a white woman. The official version of the story was that in the pre-dawn hours of July 16, 1949, a white couple’s car broke down on a lonely road. Four black men drove up and offered to help but then beat the man, kidnapped his wife, and raped her. Two of the alleged assailants among the “Groveland Four” were killed, one by a sheriff. The Sentinel says, “The story had many more ugly twists and turns marked by lies, cover-ups and injustice.”

In its editorial, the newspaper said, “We’re sorry for the Orlando Sentinel’s role in this injustice. We’re sorry that the newspaper at the time did between little and nothing to seek the truth. We’re sorry that our coverage of the event and its aftermath lent credibility to the cover-up and the official, racist narrative.” The paper published on the front page a cartoon that showed four empty electric chairs for the assailants. A U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the convictions of two of the defendants cited the Sentinel’s electric chairs cartoon as one of the factors that should have led to a change of venue in the men’s original trial. The newspaper says the “Groveland Four coverage then would not happen today. Reporters and editors at the Sentinel are expected to question official versions of events, not to blindly accept them.”


Brittany Packnett, Serial’s Sarah Koenig Named TCR’s 2019 Justice Trailblazers

Koenig and Packnett, will be honored for their separate achievements in utilizing the new U.S. media landscape to enhance the national debates over criminal justice reform at a Feb. 21 dinner at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Sarah Koenig, co-creator of Serial, and Brittany Packnett, contributor to the Webby-award winning Pod Save the People podcast, have been chosen as The Crime Report’s 2019 Justice Media Trailblazers.

The awards are given annually to honor individuals in the media or media-related fields who have advanced national understanding of the 21st-century challenges of criminal justice reform.

Koenig and Packnett will receive their awards at a special dinner at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York on Feb. 21.


Sarah Koenig, co-creator of Serial.

Koenig’s Serial program which launched its first season in 2014, is credited with bringing mainstream attention to podcasting. Episodes have been downloaded more than 420 million times and have attracted new audiences to the issues of justice reform. The third season, covering the criminal justice system in Cleveland, premiered in late 2018.

Packnett, named one of TIME Magazine’s “12 New Faces of Black Leadership,” has emerged as one of the most exciting new voices for justice reform through her impactful use of activist podcasting and other media channels.

Her achievements include co-founding Campaign Zero, which lobbies for police reform, and serving as vice president of National Community Alliances for Teach for America. Pod Save the People debuted on the iTunes podcast chart at number four, and reached a peak of number two.

Brittany Packnett

Brittany Packnett of Pod Save the People. Photo by Reginald Cunningham/Pure Black Photography

“Changes in the media landscape have generated innovative approaches to reaching audiences around the country, and the debate over criminal justice has deepened as a result,” said Stephen Handelman, Executive Editor of The Crime Report.

“Sarah and Brittany are extraordinary examples of creative media entrepreneurship, and they’ve blazed a path that others are now following.”

The two women will be presented with the sixth annual Justice Media Trailblazer award at John Jay College, during a dinner which will also recognize the winners of the annual 2018-2019 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Prizes for Excellence in Criminal Justice Journalism. The dinner is the highlight of the 14th annual John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Symposium on Justice in America held February 21 and 22.

Previous Trailblazers were: Bill Moyers executive producer of “Rikers: An American Jail”; Van Jones of CNN; David Simon of The Wire; Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black; NPR’s Maria Hinojosa, producer of Latino USA; and New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb.

Serial co-creator Julie Snyder will introduce Koenig at the dinner; and Brooklyn, NY activist Blair Imani will introduce Packnett. The event will be emceed by NY 1 News anchor Errol Louis.

Last year’s dinner remarks by Bill Moyers are available on this video link.

The annual Trailblazer dinners are organized by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College, publisher of The Crime Report. Seating is by reservation only. More details here.


Seven of Top Ten News Stories Involved Criminal Justice

Editors and news directors voted the mass shooting at a Parkland, Fl., high school in which 17 students and staff were killed, which prompted nationwide student-led marches for gun control, as the year’s top news story. The number two story was the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into whether the Trump election campaign coordinated with Russia. 

Seven of the ten top news stories of 2018 voted by U.S. editors and news directors had criminal justice implications,  the Associated Press reports. The top story on the annual survey was the mass shooting at a Parkland, Fl., high school in which 17 students and staff were killed, which prompted nationwide student-led marches for gun control. The number two story was the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into whether the Trump election campaign coordinated with Russia. A year ago, the surge of #MeToo sexual misconduct allegations that toppled many powerful men was voted the top news story. The continuing momentum of #MeToo in 2018 was this year’s number three story.

Mass shootings at a country music bar in California in November; a high school in Santa Fe., Tx., in May; the Annapolis Capital Gazette in June and the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October were voted the number four story. Immigration controversies along the U.S-Mexico border were the number six top story; the nomination controversy over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh number seven; and the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi number ten. The other top ten stories were the U.S. midterm elections, California wildfires, and climate change.