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The Unbiased Journalist

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New York Times reporter Tim Arango reports in today's New York Times that "Death Row Foes See Newsroom Cuts as [a] Blow."  Apparently, lawyers who oppose the death penalty, and are working to exonerate prisoners on death row, feel "hobbled" by the shrinking size of America's newspapers and the declining number of investigative journalists. 

But death penalty opponents aren't worried that the decreasing number of papers will undermine quality journalism or inhibit the proliferation of ideas.  Death penalty opponents are complaining because they are finding it more difficult to enlist reporters as active members of their cause. Entirely aside from manpower questions, there is the question whether reporters ought to be doing that in the first place.

Some news organizations are reluctant to join the effort out of fear of blurring the line between advocate and objective collector of the news. "My feeling always was we should do it on our own," said Maurice Possley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who wrote many death penalty and wrongful convictions stories while a reporter for The Chicago Tribune.

Mr. Possley, who left The Tribune last year, had discussions with Mr. Scheck about the paper becoming involved as a plaintiff in the Jones case. "I think the more you link up, people will think you have a bias or an agenda," Mr. Possley said.

Right.

3 Comments

But haven't journalists done good in the area of innocence? I don't think the issue is whether they investigate innocence due to a tip or a push from Scheck, but whether they present the facts fairly and do stories on bogus innocence claims with the same gusto.

Stories of guilt and stories of bogus innocence claims won't make it to print if the editor doesn't believe the matter to be newsworthy. It's unlikely that many reporters dream of the Pulitzer they'll win for a story about a depraved criminal and his helpers getting exposed for gaming the system.

Some may file this "bias" under the "man bites dog" category of sensational news but I think there is an unmistakable bias of the newspaper industry to oppose the death penalty and I agree with the statement about "lawyers who oppose the death penalty... feel "hobbled" by the shrinking size of America's newspapers and the declining number of investigative journalists." They should feel hobbled as they are losing a great partner in their battle against the death penalty.

Even when a guilty verdict is thrown out due to some evidence or procedural error, their headline is about the release and not about how the evidence does not "prove" innocence but merely questions guilt.

I am also tired of the front page sob stories of the person in prison leading an exemplary life who we should feel bad (and release, maybe pay for college tuition...) while very little is mentioned about the victims of this miscreant's crimes. They gloss over the "minor assaults, robberies and sexual assaults..." as being errors of his "youth". A true journalist with no bias would present those heinous facts in a balanced manner. Talk in detail of how the victim's lives ahve been forever scared, ruined relationships, created introverts with gallons of tears and years of counseling... Save the opinions for the "Editorial" pages... or better yet just save it!

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