Recently in Journalism Category

Amplifying Molehills Into Mountains

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This story reminds me of an old REO Speedwagon song:

But I know the neighborhood
And talk is cheap when the story is good
And the tales grow taller on down the line
Ian Millhiser, the Justice Editor at ThinkProgress, informs us:

President Trump "is considering a proposal to mobilize as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants, including millions living nowhere near the Mexico border," according to the Associated Press.
But AP did not say that.  Notice the placement of the opening quotation mark.

Ms. Saunders Goes to Washington

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Debra Saunders has long been the resident person of sense (singular) on the opinion pages of the San Francisco Chronicle.  I have called her the SF Chrontrarian, and we have quoted her columns many times on this blog.

Debra is moving to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and she is going to Washington as that paper's White House correspondent.  We at CJLF congratulate her and wish her well in the new gig, though we will miss her in California.

The Most Common Source of Fake News

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By CJLF Intern Dillon Harrington

Chances are that at some point over the last few weeks you have heard talk of fake news and how it was used as a tool for the Republican Party this election cycle. Claims of Russian hackers and illegitimate elections fill headlines across the nation, but this raises the question, why is it that claims of fake news emerge only now when the information no longer serves the liberal narrative?

What about when the "hands up don't shoot" headline synonymous with the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson inspired hundreds of thousands of people to take up the mantle of the Black Lives Matter movement, touting the misguided belief that African American citizens were under constant threat of murder and abuse at the hands of the police? When the Grand Jury decided that the shooting was a lawful one, and that based on the evidence in the case, the story that Michael Brown was shot with his hands in the air in surrender was a falsehood, the left was silent. The entirety of the BLM movement which has incited fear and hate that has often erupted into violence, was based on this bit of fiction and yet we hear no dissenting opinions from the left.

Marcos Breton has this column in the Sacramento Bee.

After 30 years as a journalist in California, I've come to believe that my industry can unintentionally distort the public's understanding of the death penalty.
But he doesn't mean the usual kind of media bias.

No, I'm referring to distortion by omission in many media accounts of death penalty cases. As journalists, we often won't describe the most gruesome details because they can violate the rules of decent public discourse.

We are mindful of subscribers reading the paper at their breakfast tables or online at their computers at work. So it's unlikely we're going to tell you the excruciating ways in which some people on California's death row tortured their victims. It's unlikely we're going to tell you exactly how they derived emotional or sexual satisfaction from playing god over defenseless children who begged for mercy before being killed.

Newspaper editorials contain both opinions and factual assertions supporting those opinions.  Editorial writers, like everyone else, are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts, as the saying goes.  Professionalism requires that the facts in an editorial be checked as carefully as those in a news story.

Last week the Los Angeles Times failed this standard and published an editorial that blatantly misrepresented the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in Calderon v. Thompson, 523 U.S. 538 (1998).  In so doing, the Times defamed the Court and, even worse, misled its readers on a vitally important public issue they will be voting on shortly.

Did anyone at the Times actually read the opinion before publishing this editorial, or did they just regurgitate the propaganda fed to them by the anti-death-penalty lobby?  It is difficult to believe they read it.

Confirmation Bias

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It's only human.  If we hear a piece of information that fits with the way we think things are, we are more likely to accept it without scrutiny.  If we hear something that is contrary to our world-view, we are more likely to subject it to scrutiny.

James Taranto at the WSJ and Jonah Bennett at the Daily Caller report on how easy it was to "troll" journalists with a fake story merely by providing a supposed connection between Donald Trump and white supremacists.  Bennett quotes one of the hoaxers:

"Basically, I interspersed various nuggets of truth and exaggerated a lot of things, and sometimes outright lied -- in the interest of making a journalist believe that online Trump supporters are largely a group of meme-jihadis who use a cartoon frog to push Nazi propaganda. Because this was funny to me," Swift told TheDCNF.

"The idea that every major Trump supporter online is secretly a neo-Nazi, for one. I mean, it's just not true. But it's the kind of thing that a journalist will readily believe."

This is why it is so important to have a diversity of viewpoints in both journalism and academia and why it is so dangerous and harmful that both of these professions have a badly skewed distribution.   Claims need to scrutinized whichever side of the aisle they serve, and we would have more thorough and complete scrutiny if we had a better balance of viewpoints.

New Study Shows ...

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The Onion reports:

Highlighting the gaping security holes that continue to persist 15 years after the attacks, an encouraging report released Thursday by radical extremist think tank the Caliphate Institute determined that the United States is no safer than it was before 9/11. "Despite efforts to expand digital surveillance and coordinate information-sharing among intelligence agencies, we discovered that the ability of the U.S. government to assess and eliminate potential terrorist threats has not substantively improved since September 11, 2001, which came as a shocking and welcome finding," said Selim Amir, chairman of the fundamentalist K Street research institute, which is staffed by prominent jihadist thinkers, visiting Sharia law scholars, and retired senior members of al-Qaeda.
The Onion is, of course, a satire publication.  The kernel of truth beneath the satire is how studies by organizations with agendas are so often uncritically reported as if they were done by neutral seekers of truth and as if they are the definitive word on the subject.
Ed O'Keefe, Jose A. DelReal and John Wagner have this article in the WaPo, with a lead paragraph that is typical of what is all over the net:

Democrats prepared to use their convention Wednesday night to raise fresh doubts about Donald Trump's fitness to serve as commander in chief, as the Republican presidential candidate called on Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton's email server to find "missing" messages and release them to the public.
But did he really say that?  His actual statement is in the next two paragraphs:

"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press," Trump said during a news conference at his South Florida resort on Wednesday.

"They probably have them. I'd like to have them released. It gives me no pause, if they have them, they have them," Trump added later when asked if his comments were inappropriate. "If Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I mean, to be honest with you, I'd love to see them."
As I read that, he is expressing a belief that they already have the emails, having hacked Mrs. Clinton's home-brewed server a long time ago, and he is saying he hopes they release them.  That is a very different thing.

How could he possibly call on Russia to hack into a server that was taken off line and wiped a long time ago?  That doesn't make any sense.

NYT v. RBG

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I felt a great disturbance in the Force.

The New York Times has an editorial (not an op-ed or a column, the newspaper's main editorial representing its position as an institution), headlined Donald Trump Is Right About Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Wow.  Who would have thought we would read the words "Donald Trump is right"  in a New York Times editorial about anything, but especially about one of the Left's favorite jurists.

Mr. Trump's hands, of course, are far from clean on the matter of judicial independence. It was just weeks ago that he was lambasting Gonzalo Curiel, the United States District Court judge overseeing a case against Trump University, saying that as a "Mexican," the Indiana-born judge could not be impartial.

All of which makes it only more baffling that Justice Ginsburg would choose to descend toward his level and call her own commitment to impartiality into question. Washington is more than partisan enough without the spectacle of a Supreme Court justice flinging herself into the mosh pit.
Disturbance number two:  Your humble blogger agrees with an NYT editorial.  I can't remember the last time that happened.  Another previously reliable contrarian indicator goes awry.

No Remorse for Doctored Video

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Erik Wemple, who covers media issues for the WaPo, has this post on the doctored video in Katie Couric's documentary on gun rights, which Bill noted Tuesday.   Wemple notes that while Couric has apologized, director Stephanie Soechtig continues to insist she did nothing wrong.

For the record, the edit in question misportrayed an exchange between Couric and members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. In response to a question about background checks, VCDL members are depicted in stunned silence for about eight seconds. An audiotape recorded by VCDL President Philip Van Cleave showed that Couric's inquiry fetched an immediate and quite reasonable response.
After quoting Soechtig's absurd responses in an interview, Wemple concludes, "Arrogance and disregard for people are horrible traits in someone who purports to explore one of the country's most divisive issues."

Unfortunately, Soechtig's attitude is all too common in too many people purporting to explore divisive issues.  For too many, it is perfectly okay to distort and deceive as long as you are doing it in support of the Politically Correct position.

Note that this deception has only received the attention it has because Van Cleave made his own independent recording, catching Soechtig red-handed.  If it had merely been his word as to what happened, and not this recorded proof, she probably would have gotten away with it.
Mark Berman at the Washington Post has this story on the Hurst remand argument, noted in my post yesterday. Unfortunately, the article contains a glaring error.

The uncertain situation dates back to January, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida's unique system of imposing death sentences as unconstitutional because it let judges, rather than juries, make the final call.
Wrong.  The issue in Hurst was the finding of an aggravating circumstance making the defendant eligible for the death penalty.  Way back in the Spaziano case in 1984, as described in my previous post, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that the Sixth Amendment requires that the jury make "the final call."

In light of the facts that the Sixth Amendment does not require jury sentencing, that the demands of fairness and reliability in capital cases do not require it, and that neither the nature of, nor the purpose behind, the death penalty requires jury sentencing, we cannot conclude that placing responsibility on the trial judge to impose the sentence in a capital case is unconstitutional.
The Hurst Court was very careful not to say that Spaziano was overruled entirely.  Instead, Spaziano and Hildwin were overruled only "to the extent they allow a sentencing judge to find an aggravating circumstance, independent of a jury's factfinding, that is necessary for imposition of the death penalty."  In other words, Spaziano is still good law on the "final call."

Why does the WaPo keep getting things wrong on capital cases?  Maybe it's because the "experts" consulted for their stories consist mostly, if not entirely, of advocates for one side of the issue.
In some corners of the Bizarro World of left-wing academia, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are limited to expression of Politically Correct ideas.  What do you call it when a Politically Incorrect student journalist tries to cover a protest, and a professor of communications, no less, calls for "some muscle" to forcibly remove him?  The City of Columbia prosecutor calls it assault in the third degree.

Erik Wemple, media blogger for the WaPo, reports:

Melissa Click, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Missouri, has been charged with third-degree assault by the city of Columbia prosecutor's office, an assistant at that office confirmed today to the Erik Wemple Blog. The arrest comes months after Click was captured on video asking for "some muscle" to counter a student journalist at a November protest at the university. She also pushed the student journalist's camera.

An NYT Hatchet Job on Ted Cruz

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David Brooks has this column in the NYT on Ted Cruz, and it can only be described as a hatchet job.  CJLF does not endorse candidates and takes no position on the Republican primary.*  However, I do think we should correct misrepresentations about the candidates when they fall within our area of expertise.

Spinning the Murder Surge

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Heather MacDonald has this op-ed in the WSJ exposing the Brennan Center's attempts to paper over the rise in murders and the "Ferguson effect."  An 11% rise in homicides in a single year is a horrifying spike, but MacDonald notes how the Brennan Center soft-pedals it, and several media outlets join in a subjective classification of the rise as "slight" etc. without giving their readers the benefit of the actual number.

The puzzle is why these progressives are so intent on denying that such depolicing is occurring and that it is affecting public safety.

   The answer lies in the enduring commitment of antipolice progressives to the "root causes" theory of crime. The Brennan Center study closes by hypothesizing that lower incomes, higher poverty rates, falling populations and high unemployment are driving the rising murder rates in Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans and St. Louis. But those aspects of urban life haven't dramatically worsened over the past year and a half. What has changed is the climate for law enforcement.
The fact that spin from an ideologically driven organization like the Brennan Center has gotten as much credence as it has in the press is a symptom of a major problem in American society.  There is a gross imbalance in the number and funding of nonprofit organizations interested in crime issues.  The Manhattan Institute (where MacDonald works) and CJLF are outnumbered and outspent by the Brennan Center, the Marshall Project, the Urban Institute, the Pew organizations, the Death Penalty Information Center, and on and on.  [Hint:  If an organization is named for one of the two most pro-criminal Supreme Court Justices in American history, it is not a neutral source of information.]  The capacity of these organizations to pump out reports that seem to support the leftist agenda but do not hold up to examination exceeds the capacity of organizations of contrary viewpoints to make and publicize the examinations.

In addition, both the press and academia are populated by people whose spectrum of viewpoints is shifted at least one sigma left of the American median, if not two.  Assertions that fit with the general set of assumptions of the left simply do not get as much scrutiny as those that run contrary to those assumptions.

This combination of factors produces a dangerous situation where spin goes insufficiently challenged.  If such spin leads to wrong policies in matters of life and death, the potential consequences are grave indeed.

Prosecutor Responds to Linda Greenhouse

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Kentucky prosecutor Ian Sonego emailed Kent in response to this recent post regarding Linda Greenhouse's criticism of CJLF. It reads:

 

I have been a prosecutor in Kentucky since 1980, and I started working on my first death penalty case in 1981. I worked on many death penalty cases after that. I have been a speaker at the 2015 Kentucky prosecutors death penalty conference and at the 2015 death penalty conference presented by the National Association of District Attorneys. 

 

The arguments made in the amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs filed by CJLF (Kent Scheidegger) and the comments in support of crime victims, law enforcement, and the death penalty, as presented by CJLF (Kent Scheidegger or Mr. Rushford) to the news media reporters generally conform to my views and the views of most of the prosecutors that I know. The award that Kent received from the Association of Government Attorneys in Capital Litigation (a multi-state group of prosecutors who prosecute cases in which the death penalty is requested) in recognition of his advocacy in support of the death penalty is also significant. 

 

Unfortunately, working as a prosecutor does not necessary make someone a good spokesperson in dealing with news reporters. I would not classify myself as a good media spokesperson in spite of my years of work in the court system. 



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