Criminal Justice

Issues ››› Criminal Justice
  • Fox News Omits Key Facts Regarding Unprecedented Arkansas Death Penalty Cases

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    During its reporting on the state of Arkansas’ unprecedented plan to execute eight inmates in 11 days, Fox News repeatedly omitted important details about the legal challenges to the plan, downplayed the extent of criticism to the plan, and misled its viewers on the reasons the executions have not yet been carried out.

    On the April 18 edition of Fox News’ Happening Now, host Jon Scott opened a panel discussion by asking, “The reasoning for this holdup has nothing to do with the lethal injection drugs that are currently in question, right?” In fact, one of the orders blocking the executions was issued for that exact reason. The Arkansas circuit judge temporarily blocked the state from using one of its drugs, vecuronium bromide, a paralytic used in prisons for lethal injections (and for other purposes elsewhere).This ruling came after McKesson, a distributor of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, filed a complaint alleging that the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) “intentionally sought to circumvent McKesson’s policies by claiming that the drug would only be used for medical reasons in a health facility.” The ADC has to date declined to answer questions about how it obtained the restricted drugs or whether it planned to return them.

    An hour before Scott’s show aired, correspondent Casey Stegall noted on Fox’s America’s Newsroom that “states have had a difficult time getting new supplies of this drug [midazolam] because many critics say it should not be used to kill people.” He was referring to another drug that Arkansas has in its possession but which will expire on April 30. Stegall, however, failed to mention that these “critics” include the drug makers themselves. West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes midazolam, and Fresenius Kabi USA, manufacturer of potassium chloride, another drug used in executions, have also expressed opposition to the use of their drugs for lethal injection. In an amicus brief they filed with the district court, the companies wrote that using their medicines in executions “runs counter to the manufacturers’ mission to save and enhance patients’ lives.” Spokespersons for Fresenius Kabi and West-Ward told The Washington Post that they had “recently learned” that their medicines “might be used in Arkansas lethal injections.” The reporting on these drugs shows that all three drugs used in Arkansas’ lethal injection cocktail are implicated in legal battles. Thus for Fox to imply that the planned executions are opposed merely by “critics” is a gross understatement of the legal challenges ADC is facing.

    During his reporting, Stegall also failed to provide context for the shortage of the drugs in the first place. Since 2011, many European drug companies, in an alignment with the European Union’s objection to death penalty, have decided to cease shipment of their drugs to U.S. prisons that carry out executions via lethal injections. This has created a shortage that has led U.S. prisons to turn to dangerous experimentation, as was in the case in 2014, when Dennis McGuire, an Ohio inmate on death row, was injected with a never-before-used drug cocktail. McGuire’s execution lasted 25 minutes, the longest in Ohio’s history, and witnesses said he “gasped several times throughout” before dying.

    After criminal defense attorney Yodit Tewolde explained that “for Arkansas to try to rush executions for the sake of a drug expiring at the end of the month is disrespectful to the intent of justice in this case,” Scott ignored her point and flippantly remarked that it “seems odd” to characterize the response to a crime that happened in 1992 as a “rush to judgment.” His comment and Casey Stegall’s claim that the “expedited timeline” was initiated because “the state is up against this deadline” of expiring drugs ignores the legal implications of their expiration. Arkansas’ “rush” to use drugs before their expiration for purposes which are opposed by the companies that sell them is a potentially illegal contract violation, and given the state’s reported admission that it violated contracts with drug makers in an earlier case, this context is especially important.

    Arkansas hasn’t carried out any executions since 2005. The state’s aggressive and potentially unconstitutional plan to execute eight inmates in 11 days is unprecedented, hugely consequential, and has drawn national scrutiny at a time when Americans’ support for the death penalty is on the decline. Leaving out important details when reporting on such a high profile case is an inexcusable journalistic failure, especially given the American public’s lack of knowledge about capital punishment in the nation’s prisons.

    Image by Sarah Wasko.

  • Five Things Media Figures Demanded Obama Attorneys General Resign Over That Are Less Serious Than Lying Under Oath

    And Trump’s Chief Of Staff Twice Called For Eric Holder’s Resignation

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Lawmakers began calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ resignation after news reports published on March 1 revealed that he had spoken to Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the 2016 election, when he was serving as a campaign surrogate for then-candidate Donald Trump. The reports contradict sworn testimony Sessions provided during his confirmation hearing, when he said he “did not have communications with the Russians.” During the Obama administration, conservative media figures and Republicans demanded that his attorneys general resign or be fired for supposed outrages far less damaging than lying to Congress, none of which were criminal in nature, and were in many cases completely phony.

  • One Of The “Alt-Right” Men Who Brought You “Pizzagate” Is Now Attacking Vic Berger

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    “Alt-right” social media personality Mike Cernovich used “pizzagate”-like tactics to attack video editor and satirist Vic Berger, who was subjected to online harassment and threats after he mocked Cernovich. In spite of his repeated harassment of other Twitter users, the social media network has taken no action against Cernovich, who became a verified user in August.

    Cernovich operates the website Danger & Play, which publishes numerous articles, essays, and audio recordings that attack feminists and "SJWs" (social justice warriors) and dispute the validity of date rape claims. On his Twitter accounts, Cernovich has dismissed the possibility of date rape, writing, “The hotter the sex, the more closely it resembles rape” and “The only rape culture is Muslim rape culture” and asking, “Why should I care when women are raped?”

    Cernovich was one of many “alt-right” figures who weaponized fake news articles to push “pizzagate,” a conspiracy theory that baselessly alleged Hillary Clinton’s inner circle was orchestrating a child sex-trafficking ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. Cernovich and his fellow “alt-right” figures’ promotion of the story on social media resulted in “abusive social media comments” for the named pizzeria owners and inspired a man to enter the business with a gun and fire shots while attempting to “self-investigate” the claims.

    Retired general Michael Flynn, whom President-elect Donald Trump has selected as his national security adviser, has frequently interacted with Cernovich on Twitter and praised Cernovich’s “terrific book” Gorilla Mindset: How to Control Your Thoughts and Emotions, Improve Your Health and Fitness, Make More Money, and Live Life on Your Terms.

    Cernovich used the same method of attack that made “pizzagate” dangerous for the Washington pizzeria owners to attack Berger, urging his followers to “monitor” Berger and his Twitter followers to “find out what is going on, who these people are, what their connections are” because “they might be harming children.” By spreading the false rumor that Berger and his Twitter followers may be involved in a child sex ring, Cernovich inspired his Twitter followers -- who have already been hearing for months that Democrats are pedophiles -- to lash out at Berger and several of his Twitter followers, including some who have never spoken to Berger but merely follow his Twitter account.

    Berger starting satirizing Cernovich in November, mocking him with video supercuts, asking him to investigate a made-up conspiracy theory that Trump has rabies, and replying to Cernovich’s most disgusting tweets, which talked about “going to the gym” with “period juice all over you” and suggested that “date rape does not exist.” After Cernovich blocked Berger from following him, Berger asked his followers to write Cernovich and tell him to unblock him because “1st Amendment is very important,” apparently mocking Cernovich’s self-proclamation that he is a “free speech activist.”

    Cernovich responded to Berger by alleging in an article on his site, Danger and Play, that one of Berger’s Twitter followers sent him a direct message that included a photo of a newborn baby and the word “cum” after Cernovich posted a photo of himself with his newborn daughter. Cernovich cited a screenshot that “has been deleted as it was sickening,” but is not included on any archived pages.

    Cernovich’s “pizzagate” tactics have resulted in a flood of online harassment and death threats aimed at Berger from “alt-right” Twitter users. Berger tweeted on December 18 that he was abandoning his Twitter profile until the harassment “is settled” because he needed to “protect [his] family.” And that’s worrying because, as UW-Madison public affairs professor Don Moynihan pointed out, after “pizzagate” it is “reasonable to worry that lies will end in violence.” Journalist Dave Weigel also noted mockingly that this tactic of baselessly calling your opponent a pedophile and mobilizing people to take action “worked so well with Pizzagate.”

    During “pizzagate,” Cernovich repeatedly pushed fake news validating the conspiracy, accused the mainstream media of “covering up” for alleged pedophiles, implied Vice President Joe Biden was a pedophile, and alleged that there was “zero evidence” connecting an armed man who entered the Washington, D.C, pizzeria to “pizzagate” in the incident’s immediate aftermath.

    Cernovich activated a hotbed of Twitter users to threaten Berger using the same smear tactics the “alt-right” used to promote harassment over “pizzagate”: Publishing a smear in a news-style article format and distributing it to an eager fan base.

  • Why Won’t Fox News Ask Potential Trump DHS Head David Clarke Why Inmates Are Dying In His Jail?

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    President-elect Donald Trump is reportedly considering Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke -- a frequent Fox News guest -- to head the Department of Homeland Security. In April, an inmate in Sheriff Clarke’s Milwaukee County Jail was found dead of “profound dehydration.” Since that incident, three other individuals, including a newborn infant, have died in Clarke’s Milwaukee County Jail, but in more than 40 prime-time appearances on Fox News since the first reported death, Clarke has not once been asked about the disturbing trend of people dying in his jail. Clarke’s tenure as Milwaukee County Sheriff has been filled with controversy and legal action, and on Fox News and Twitter, Clarke has a history of using incendiary rhetoric directed at government officials and protesters.

  • O’Reilly Segment Erroneously Claims Bias In Police Shooting Against Whites, Not African Americans

    Their Own Data Shows Lethal Police Force Against Nonviolent Black Offenders Is More Than 3 Times Higher Than Whites

    Blog ››› ››› THOMAS BISHOP & NINA MAST

    Bill O'Reilly invited the Manhattan Institute's Heather Mac Donald to argue that police use force against blacks at a greater rate than whites for violent felonies. Mac Donald and O’Reilly ignored that police use lethal force against blacks at a much higher rate for nonviolent arrests.

    On the October 25 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, Bill O’Reilly hosted Mac Donald who claimed that “actually, if there's a bias in police shootings it works in favor of blacks. White felons are more likely to be shot by the police following the arrest for violent felony than blacks are,” citing data from the Center for Police Equity (CPE) showing that police used lethal force more against whites in violent felonies:

    Mac Donald cherry-picked data from the CPE used in her Wall Street Journal column which actually found that lethal force was used more often on white individuals than black individuals only in the context of violent crime. But the study found that overall “the mean use of force rate for black citizens was higher than that for white citizens in all categories” and “When controlling for resident arrests for violent Part I offenses, racial disparities that disadvantaged blacks persisted in weapon use and the use of OC spray,” according to the July, 2016, report.

    The report’s analysis revealed “a robust racial disparity benchmarked to population such that blacks receive a mean use of force score—a combination of counts and severity—that is roughly 3.8 times higher than whites:

    Note: NH=Non-Hispanic

    Mac Donald has a history of citing biased data and making inflammatory remarks about black violence. Not only has she said that there is no evidence "that the overrepresentation of blacks in prison or arrest statistics is a result of criminal justice racism,” she also claimed that young black males have a "lack of self-discipline", which accounts for their higher school suspension rates.

    Bill O’Reilly, has also defended mass incarceration of African Americans, claimed black Americans are “ill-educated,” and claimed that Black Lives Matters is “killing Americans.”

    O'Reilly gave Mac Donald an open platform to criticize Black Lives Matter protests against excessive use of force by police, while ignoring the very reason why the protests have erupted in the first place -- the killing of unarmed citizens at the hands of police for seemingly low level offenses.

  • Seven Pressing Debate Questions We Never Heard

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Presidential debate season is officially over, and critical policy questions that directly impact millions of Americans remain unasked just 19 days before the election.

    Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump met last night in Las Vegas, Nevada for the final presidential debate, which was likely the last chance for the candidates to discuss specific policy issues face-to-face before November 8. Just as in the previous two presidential debates this year, moderator Chris Wallace chose to focus questions on a handful of familiar topics. Even within the context of six pre-announced debate topics, Wallace could have asked questions on major policy issues that deserve thoughtful and substantive prime-time discussion from the presidential candidates, like affordable health care, climate change, or tax plans.

    But that didn’t happen. When debate discussions did manage to turn to policy specifics on critical topics like reproductive rights or gun violence prevention, Wallace didn’t ask necessary follow-up questions or offer clarifications on the facts. (Prior to the debate, Wallace announced his intention to be a debate timekeeper rather than fact-checker.)

    All in all, last night’s debate largely covered the same ground as the previous two debates, both in topics discussed and in tone. If any of the three debates had focused more aggressively on what’s truly at stake -- what voters have said they wanted asked, what people actually believe is most important for their own families and communities -- the questions in this debate cycle would have looked very different. And the answers could speak for themselves.

    Let’s explore just how hard the moderators dropped the ball.

    This year, the United States began the process of resettling its first climate refugees. A bipartisan group of top military experts warned that climate change presents a “strategically-significant risk to U.S. national security and international security.” While Clinton wants to build on President Obama’s climate change accomplishments, Trump wants to “cancel” the historic Paris climate agreement, “rescind” the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, and dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency -- and he’s even called global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.

    Moderators did not ask a single question about the effects of climate change in any of the three presidential debates or the vice presidential debate.

    Several tragic mass shootings -- including the single deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, at the LGBT nightclub Pulse in Orlando, FL, in June -- have shaken the nation since the beginning of the election season. Gun deaths in the United States, both in instances of mass shootings and in more common day-to-day violence, vastly outnumber gun deaths in other Western democracies -- so much so that the American Medical Association has declared gun violence a public health crisis. And Americans are overwhelmingly ready for lawmakers to take action. Seventy-two percent of voters say gun policy is “very important” in determining their vote this year, and an astonishing 90 percent of voters -- representing both Democrats and Republicans -- think that strengthening background check requirements for firearm purchases is a good place to start, as does Clinton. Trump recently told the National Rifle Association -- which has endorsed him  -- that he opposes expanding background checks. 

    Moderators failed to ask a single question about specific policies for gun violence prevention in the first two presidential debates, and they failed to ask a question about background check policies specifically in any debate. In the final debate, Wallace asked about gun policies in the context of the Supreme Court’s 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision about the scope of the Second Amendment, but he failed to follow up when Trump skirted questions about the case and about his specific positions on several gun policies like his opposition to an assault weapons ban and his oft-repeated false claim that "gun-free" zones are responsible for public mass shootings. The entire exchange lasted just under five minutes.

    Though seven in 10 Americans support legal abortion and one in three American women report having had an abortion procedure, states have enacted 288 anti-choice laws since 2010. These laws are creating a crisis by preventing women from low-income families -- many already parents who are struggling to keep families afloat -- from receiving the health care services they need. Some evidence even suggests greater numbers of women are contemplating dangerous self-induced abortions due to a lack of access to care. Trump has espoused support for these types of restrictive laws, and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), wants to “send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history.”

    But moderators did not ask a question about the candidates’ stances on reproductive rights until the final debate -- when Chris Wallace asked about Roe v. Wade. Again, Trump repeatedly lied about abortion policy, and the misinformation was left hanging as Wallace pivoted to a new topic after about five minutes of discussion.

    How about tax policies? Tax rates are a critical issue that directly affect all Americans, and the candidates’ respective tax policy proposals could not differ more. Clinton’s plan would benefit low- and middle-income families most and hike tax rates only for the wealthiest earners and for corporations. Trump’s plan has been called “a multitrillion-dollar gift to the rich” that “screws the middle class,” and has been panned even by conservative economists and The Wall Street Journal. One analysis concluded that Clinton’s plan  “trims deficits,” while Trump’s plan could add $6.2 trillion to the national debt. These numbers directly impact  the short-term and long-term financial health of families and communities, and 84 percent of voters say the economy is “very important” in deciding their vote in 2016.

    Substantive questions about the candidates’ specific tax plans were missing from the debates, though Trump still managed to lie about his tax proposals on several occasions. When the candidates mentioned their tax plans briefly in the final debate when asked about the economy, Wallace again lived up to his promise not to fact-check.

    A record number of anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year, and LGBT students face significantly more violence than their peers, but the debates did not include a single question about policy positions related to LGBT equality.

    About 70 percent of today’s college graduates leave school with student loans, and more than 43 million Americans currently have student debt. This economic squeeze is changing how Americans plan their families, buy homes, and spend their money. Clinton has responded by making college affordability a signature issue of her campaign, while Trump’s newly described plan could “explode the student debt crisis.” Neither candidate was asked to address this issue either.

    The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world -- we account for 5 percent of the world’s population but a whopping 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Inmate organizers recently launched what could be the nation’s largest prison strike to draw attention to deplorable prison conditions. The majority of Americans want to see changes to a federal prison system they believe is “too large, too expensive, and too often incarcerating the wrong people.” Moderators didn’t ask about criminal justice reform policies at all.

    The presidential debates instead largely focused on statements made on the campaign trail, whichever offensive comments Trump had made most recently, and -- again, always -- Hillary Clinton’s email use as secretary of state. Viewers might now  know a lot about these topics  -- or at least what each candidate has to say about them -- while still having very little information on the candidates’ starkly contrasting policy positions on issues with direct and immediate consequences to citizens’ daily lives.

    Americans relied on moderators to raise the questions they think about every day, to help them understand how the next president can help ensure that their families are safe, secure, and set up to thrive. It’s a shame the debates did not deliver. 

  • Mainstream Outlets Have Not Covered A Major Nationwide Prison Strike

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    On September 9, inmates at prisons in at least 12 states began work stoppages and other protest actions to draw attention to unfair labor practices and living conditions in U.S. prisons. The actions have reportedly continued on a rolling basis in many prisons across the country for the last month, yet a Media Matters analysis found virtual media silence on the story.

    According to inmate organizers at the Holman Prison in Alabama, who have been leading prison labor actions since 2012 as the Free Alabama Movement, inmates in prisons across the country launched strikes on September 9. The strikes, which were primarily work stoppages but also included hunger striking and other forms of peaceful protest, began on the anniversary of the deadly 1971 Attica prison uprising, which began as a means to call attention to prison conditions. The actions were primarily meant to protest extremely low-wage or forced labor in prisons, though inmate organizers in some facilities chose to focus their actions on living conditions and overcrowding instead of or in addition to labor practices.

    Estimates from the organizers and allied groups suggest that more than 24,000 inmates in at least 12 states participated in strikes that day. Tracking mechanisms indicate that inmates in several prisons are still continuing acts of protest on a rolling basis, though activity is thought to be “apparently winding down.” These numbers -- if corroborated -- would make the September 9 actions the largest prison strike in U.S. history.

    Though it is difficult to know for sure, actions in some facilities appear to be getting results. In Alabama, the epicenter of strike organizing, guards joined the effort, launching an informal labor strike to highlight prison overcrowding -- conditions that make prisons less safe for both inmates and guards. And the U.S. Department of Justice launched a “possibly unprecedented” statewide investigation into conditions in Alabama prisons last week.

    Yet a search of Nexis transcripts from the major news networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- and National Public Radio for the last month has come up almost completely empty on coverage of the strikes, aside from a single 20-second mention during a run-through of headlines on NBC’s Today and a three-and-a-half-minute NPR Weekend Edition interview with the Marshall Project’s Beth Schwartzapfel.

    Traditional print media outlets did not appear to fare much better, according to a search of the same parameters; Media Matters found one article at The Wall Street Journal reporting on the initial days of the strikes.

    Media Matters found no mentions of prison strikes across the major media outlets available in Nexis from September 8 -- the day before the strikes began -- through October 10. Most coverage seemed to come from new media outlets, like BuzzFeed and Vice News, or left-leaning, sometimes niche outlets like The Marshall Project, Mother Jones, Democracy Now!, and The Intercept. Readers who do not rely on these specific types of sources for their news, instead turning to evening broadcasts or major print outlets like The New York Times, may not know the strikes happened at all.

    Media scholar and MIT professor Ethan Zuckerman explained why coverage of the strikes may be so difficult to find in a Medium post on September 10. Zuckerman, who studies “the distribution of attention in mainstream and new media” and how activists can leverage media coverage, wrote:

    It’s hard to tell what’s going on inside US prisons. While prisoners can reach out to reporters using the same channels they can use to contact friends or family members, journalists have very limited rights of access to prisons, and it would be challenging for an intrepid reporter to identify and contact inmates in prisons across a state, for instance, to determine where protests took place. Wardens have a great deal of discretion about answering reporters’ inquiries and can choose not to comment citing security concerns. Reporters who want to know what’s going on inside a prison sometimes resort to extraordinary measures, like becoming a prison guard to gain access. (Shane Bauer’s article on private prison company CCA is excellent, but the technique he used was not a new one — Ted Conover’s 2000 book Newjack is a masterpiece of the genre.)

    Because it’s so hard to report from prison — and, frankly, because news consumers haven’t demonstrated much demand for stories about prison conditions — very few media outlets have dedicated prison reporters. One expert estimates that there are fewer than half a dozen dedicated prisons reporters across the US, an insane number given that 2.4m Americans are incarcerated, roughly 1% of the nation’s population.

    Coverage of the prison strikes from progressive outlets often acknowledges the problems of reporting accurately on events occurring in prisons as well; many that cited any data on the strikes noted that the numbers were estimates provided by organizers. As Azzurra Crispino from the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (an activist group helping to coordinate inmate organizing efforts) explained in an interview with WNYC’s On The Media, some reporters are trying to learn more: “It is the case that we have not seen as much media coverage as we would like, but I am getting a lot of emails and phone calls from journalists who are telling me, ‘I’m not seeing this on the mainstream media, but it’s all over my Facebook and my Twitter feed.’” Crispino also noted that violent riots tend to garner more media attention than the peaceful protests and strikes happening in most facilities. “I would ask the mainstream media: To what extent are you complicit in future violence, if it were to arise, if the message you are sending to prisoners is: if nobody dies, we’re not going to cover it?” she said.

    Another factor in the halted information flow is that state officials often declined to comment or offered competing narratives about what took place in individual facilities when reporters reached out. Officials in at least two states where inmates have recorded strike activity have publicly denied that any work stoppages occurred, and at least one inmate organizer says he is facing what The Intercept called “disciplinary action” for participating in a radio interview about the strikes.

    MIT’s Zuckerman argued that the September strikes are an example of a situation “in which readers can have power by calling attention to events in the world,” and that reader demand could spur “large media organizations” to leverage their resources and existing contacts “to provide a more detailed view of events.” He concluded:

    Perhaps the call for the nation’s largest prison strike has failed. Or perhaps we’re seeing the beginnings of a long action that will change incarceration as we know it. It’s a problem that we don’t — and can’t — know. A nation that imprisons 1% of its population has an obligation to know what’s happening to those 2.4 million people, and right now, we don’t know.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis for any mentions or variations of the term “prison” or “inmate” within 20 words of the term “strike” or “protest” from September 8, 2016, to October 10, 2016. The search included all available news transcripts for CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and National Public Radio; articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today; and abstracts in The Wall Street JournalWall Street Journal results were also checked in Factiva. 

    Image at top from Flickr user Alicia, using a Creative Commons license.