By William H. Freivogel
The Justice Department's twin reports on Ferguson this March raised two disturbing questions about the media.
• How did so many news organizations fail for so long to realize that “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” was a myth?
• How did so many news organizations fail for so many years to uncover deeply unconstitutional police and court practices?
One hopes those questions would prompt soul-searching. For the most part, they haven’t.
By James M. Doyle
Criminal justice journalists need the public’s trust as much as the criminal justice system operators they cover. And both can jeopardize that trust, in the same way, by yielding to the same temptations.
That is among the lessons of the analysis published by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism (CGSJ) of Rolling Stone’s disastrous and eventually retracted story of an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity party. Rolling Stone has published the full report. The CGSJ analysis is a review of a wrongful conviction—even though it is a media conviction, not a courtroom conviction, the crime may never have occurred, and the convicted “defendants” may not even exist.
By Alexa Capeloto
Will someone please sue the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)? Or The GEO Group, Inc.? Or the Management and Training Corporation? I don’t have a problem with these companies, per se. Nor am I saying they do anything particularly wrong or illegal as they operate private prisons on behalf of government agencies across the country.
But challenging them for information related to the 137 facilities they collectively manage in the U.S. might help tighten a loophole that government contractors often slip through with ease.
By Graham Kates
America is a place where nearly 7 million lives are under the supervision of the criminal justice system, while nearly 78 million lives have had direct experience with it, and with the millions who spend their lives working as part of that system.
But their voices are getting lost. The very people who should be setting the agenda for a much-needed conversation about police-community relations, criminal justice policy and police tactics are the ones who seem to have the least influence in the debate.
By Tamar R. Birckhead
The U.S. Supreme Court has again deflected an effort to clarify whether its landmark 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama banning mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles should be applied retroactively. It was the second time this term and at least the fourth time since June. The Court’s December 1 refusal to hear an appeal of an Illinois Supreme Court ruling allowing for retroactive application means that at least 80 of the 100 inmates serving juvenile life without parole in that state will now have an opportunity for resentencing.
But the fate of an estimated 2,000 individuals across the United States who are currently serving mandatory life-without-parole sentences for homicide offenses committed as minors still remains unclear.
By Adair Iacono
When Orange Is the New Black started getting lots of attention, I was struck by the perversity of it all: millions of Americans are incarcerated right now, many for crimes far less serious, knowing, and incredibly avoidable than carrying drug money, and it’s only a marketable story when people realize it can happen to a pretty, white, educated woman? Viewed in a certain light, Piper Kerman’s story is an instance of justice being color- and class-blind—a system success story, in that it demonstrates that punishment can sometimes be meted out just as harshly to a woman like her as it is daily to people of color. Increased severity is not the way most of us would hope to see the American justice system achieve racial parity, I grant you, but it is one way to go about it.
By Robin L. Barton
They say a picture paints a thousand words. But in this technological age, a mere photo just isn’t good enough. The Ray Rice domestic violence case shows that, apparently, people now need a video before they believe something happened, or that an event was as serious as described.
By David J. Krajicek
The evolution of breaking news coverage stood out like an appositional thumb during the turmoil in Ferguson, Mo.
Ferguson affirmed Twitter’s position as the piston that drives the engine of spot-news journalism. Hundreds of people, including reporters, citizens, law enforcers and representatives of “observer’ organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), were serial-tweeting from Ferguson during the most contentious mid-August nights in the St. Louis suburb.
By Robin L. Barton
Have you ever have a really bad day at work and indulged yourself in a detailed daydream of how you’d torture and maybe even kill your awful boss á la the movie “Horrible Bosses”? Maybe you even shared this fantasy with a like-minded co-worker over drinks. Based on your daydream, should you be arrested for planning or conspiring to commit a crime? Or are such fantasies a harmless way to deal with job frustrations, sexual desires and other feelings?
By Timothy J. McNulty
The cat-and-mouse Edward Snowden/National Security Agency (NSA) scandal has fueled the summertime news cycle with a high tech—though drawn-out— version of a police chase. Reporters flocked to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport to search for the contractor who revealed secret NSA surveillance activities, and booked seats on flights to countries where Snowden might find refuge from the long arm of the United States government—only to discover he was a no-show.
Meanwhile, the diplomatic posturing of Latin American officials who feel the U.S. is bullying them into refusing asylum to Snowden added a side drama to media coverage of the actual crime—assuming that the courts will judge his actions a crime.