Friday, September 06, 2019

Decrying one-sided Statesman stenography on criminal justice (again)

Regular readers know Grits has complained for several years about the unremittingly poor quality of journalism on #cjreform issues in Austin, particularly from the Austin Statesman. A great example of their one-sided coverage - basically functioning as stenographer/mouthpiece for local law enforcement interests and excluding other voices - may be found in Mark Wilson's coverage of a proposal for Austin PD to pay for new equipment to test THC levels in marijuana.

This is necessary, of course, because the Legislature legalized "hemp," which is from the same plant as marijuana, and the distinguishing feature under the law is THC levels. Around the state, prosecutors have begun dismissing cases because they can't prove that element of the crime. But Austin PD wants those cases prosecuted, despite the lack of any real public-safety motivation for doing so.

The Statesman coverage quotes only law enforcement sources and gives no air time to the actual debate that took place in the hearing on the topic.

By contrast, check out a report from the Austin Chronicle by Kevin Curtin. From that coverage you actually get a sense of what went on in the meeting. Critics of the police position were quoted, as were questions from the dais by council members that law enforcement had trouble answering. He also included an utterly ridiculous declaration from Assistant police chief Troy Gay that failure to arrest pot smokers would encourage murders, home invasions and armed robberies.

The public deserves to know he said that, so we can appropriately mock it. It's asinine, ass-i-ten, ass-eleven ...

How can the citizenry be informed enough to engage in effective oversight of elected officials if public debates are misrepresented in such a one-side way? When the paper of record only quotes cops and prosecutors, that's an awfully biased lens through which one's readers must somehow interpret the world. And really, in the end, they can't. It's a big reason why #cjreform is so difficult: Reform voices can barely get in the public conversation.

I've been critical of both the Statesman and Chronicle's coverage in recent years. Since Jordan Smith left the Chronicle, most local coverage of criminal-justice topics has amounted to stenography for the cops, not journalism. So Curtin's piece was a welcome antidote. He didn't take the side of reformers, but neither did he go out of his way to exclude their voices from his coverage. That's really all I'm looking for.


Anonymous said...

Here is my opinion: America was founded on Christianity and according to the Teachings of God to do no harm. If the people were taught the Law of the Land and were forced to take responsibility for their own actions, the country would benefit. Schools today waste most of the life of families and students. Elementary school - reading, writing and arithmetic, along with social behavior and studying the works of the Forefathers. Junior High - learning the Constitutions and the country that will support them the rest of their lives. High school - Trade Schools are a necessity to be self supporting and able to raise a family. Our Children are used as pawns against us whenever Government wants a raise in pay or to increase taxes - just say NO!

Jefe said...

Anonymous 03:43 has been indulging in some form of controlled substance. I do not think his statement supports spending half a million bucks on a machine that can tell the difference between cannabinoids that get you high and those better for making rope.

Katie Hall said...

For the record, we did write about the arguments that critics made against APD's decision to continue charging people for possessing minor amounts of marijuana. Tony Plohetski wrote a story, which ran in Wednesday's paper:

Mark's story, which ran in Thursday's paper, was a follow-up to that story. We wanted to dig into this issue that people whose POM cases were rejected may not be off the hook.