This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.


At what point do purposeful omissions become deliberate lies?
Dana Pico 11/23/2021 12:03 PM


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Image: Wikipedia, Public Domain

     On my website, The First Street Journal, I frequently refer to journolism. The spelling ‘journolist’ or 'journolism' comes from JournoList, an email list of 400 influential and politically liberal journalists, the exposure of which called into question their objectivity. I use the term ‘journolism’ frequently when writing about media bias.

     I have done several searches, over time, to find the McClatchy Mugshot Policy written down as an official communique from the company, without success. I have found it specified in this tweet from Nicole Manna, who described herself as an "Investigative reporter for the @StarTelegram focusing on criminal justice. Dog mom. Florida native. Olive enthusiast. Tip me, please: nmanna@star-telegram.com". She posted:

     Publishing mugshots of arrestees has been shown to have lasting effects on both the people photographed and marginalized communities. The permanence of the internet can mean those arrested but not convicted of a crime have the photograph attached to their names forever. Beyond the personal impact, inappropriate publication of mugshots disproportionately harms people of color and those with mental illness. In fact, some police departments have started moving away from taking/releasing mugshots as a routine part of their procedures.

     To address these concerns, McClatchy will not publish crime mugshots -- online, or in print, from any newsroom or content-producing team -- unless approved by an editor. To be clear, this means that in addition to photos accompanying text stories, McClatchy will not publish "Most wanted" or "Mugshot galleries" in slide-show, video or print. 

     Any exception to this policy must be approved by an editor. Editors considering an exception should ask:

  • Is there an urgent threat to the community?
  • Is this person a public official or the suspect in a hate crime?
  • Is this a serial killer suspect or a high-profile crime?

     If an exception is made, editors will need to take an additional step with the Pub Center to confirm publication by making a note in the 'package notes' field in Sluglife.

 

     The Kansas City Star, a McClatchy newspaper, noted in this article that "The Star's parent company, McClatchy, announced this summer that it would stop publishing mugshots unless approved by an editor", but while I was able to copy that much from a Google search, the article is "subscriber-only content", so I cannot access it. My digital subscription to the Lexington Herald-Leader, another McClatchy newspaper, does not give me access to other company sites.

     The Columbia Journalism Review published an article by Cory Hutchins on October 24, 2018, "Mugshot galleries might be a web-traffic magnet. Does that justify publishing them?", asking if the publication of mugshots of accused but not convicted criminal suspects is ethical; this was before the McClatchy Mugshot Policy went into effect.

     On October 20, 2021, the American Press Institute welcomed Kamaria Roberts to the fold, saying in part:

     During her time at McClatchy, Roberts served as a co-chair to the news division’s first Advisory Team, which focused on diversity and inclusion efforts in newsrooms and in the content that they produce. In that role, she and nine other colleagues delivered significant recommendations of many consequential initiatives, including McClatchy’s mugshot policy and the company’s style change to capitalize Black in references to people and culture.

     Without an official link to the policy from McClatchy itself, that's the best documentation up with which I can come, but I believe it sufficient to prove the point.

     I documented in "The Lexington Herald-Leader does race-based reporting" how the newspaper's digital version of "2 died in a robbery, gunfight spree in Lexington. Shooter pleads in 1 case" declined to print the mugshot of Jemel Barber, who pleaded guilty to "one of two fatal shootings during a string of robberies and gunfights in Lexington," while, in "Hour-long standoff at Stanton gas station leads to arrest of sexual assault suspect", published only four minutes after the update on Mr Barber's conviction, the paper did publish the mugshot, a very disrespectful looking photo, of Craig Worm, 50, an arrested but not convicted sexual assault suspect.

     It was on that story that I left a comment noting that the Herald-Leader has been publishing the photos of white suspects, but not black convicted murderers. Peter Baniak, the editor, certainly has noted the point, as have reporters Chris Leach and Jeremy Chisenhall, but, as of Monday, November 22, 2021, the photo is still on the story.

     The paper did not stop when notified: on Thursday, November 18th, the web edition had Christopher Leach's story, "Kentucky woman ran to neighbor for help. Boyfriend charged over what happened next.", with this photo of suspect Mark Anthony Hoover, while on Friday, November 19th, Mr Leach's story "Corbin man charged after allegedly beating father with pipeincluded this photo.[i] 

     This is hardly something that has happened in just the past week or so. I noted, half a year ago, that the Lexington Herald-Leader does not like posting photographs of accused criminals, even when the suspect is an accused murderer and is still at large, and publishing the photo might help the police capture him. something which ought to have triggered the "Is there an urgent threat to the community?" exception in the mugshot policy.

     The McClatchy policy states that any exceptions to the general policy of not publishing mugshots "must be approved by an editor." The newspaper lists four (non-sports) editors who might be responsible for taking such decisions:[ii]

  • Peter Baniak, Executive Editor and General Manager;
  • Deedra Lawhead, Deputy Editor, Digital;
  • Brian Simms, Deputy Editor, Presentation:, or
  • John Stamper, Deputy Editor, Accountability

     So, who is approving printing all of the mugshots of white suspects, or white convicted criminals, yet not wanting those of black suspects or convicted criminals published?

     But more important than the "who" is the "why". The answer to that may be found in The Sacramento Bee, the lead McClatchy newspaper, which led the way on the no mugshot policy. While much of the current policy, as stated, can be found in this article, this paragraph includes something not in the stated policy:

     Publishing these photographs and videos disproportionately harms people of color and those with mental illness, while also perpetuating stereotypes about who commits crime in our community.

     It's that last, "perpetuating stereotypes about who commits crime in our community," that is the key. The Herald-Leader, or so it seems to me, does not want to perpetuate those stereotypes, and, whether intentionally or otherwise, seems to be trying to reverse those stereotypes. From the Bee again:

     (T)he San Francisco Police Department earlier this month announced it will no longer release mugshots, unless the public is in imminent danger.

     “This policy emerges from compelling research suggesting that the widespread publication of police booking photos in the news and on social media creates an illusory correlation for viewers that fosters racial bias and vastly overstates the propensity of Black and brown men to engage in criminal behavior,” Police Chief William Scott said in a statement.

     I will admit it: I fail to see how publishing the facts "overstates" anything.

The Lexington Police Department's Shooting investigations page reports, as of November 19, 2021, 120 non-fatal shootings in Fayette County. That page lists the race of the victims, something the Homicides page does not.

     Of 120 shooting victims, 19 are listed as white, 11 as Hispanic, leaving 90 victims being listed as black. That's an even 75.00%, in a city that the 2020 Census lists as being only 14.7% black. While the number of shootings which have resulted in arrests is really too low from which to draw numbers, we do know that most murders and attempted murders are intraracial, not interracial, in nature. In the vast majority of cases, white people kill other white people, and black people kill other black people. Unless there has been a substantial deviation from that norm, something which neither the Herald-Leader nor any other Kentucky media have reported, 75% of all shootings in the city having black victims means that a similarly high percentage of the shooters are black as well.

     So what are the editors of that newspaper doing? Whether intentionally or otherwise, the paper's coverage of crime and their choices in which photos to use appear to be aimed at persuading readers that the perpetrators of crimes in the region are primarily white. While in the eastern Kentucky areas of the Herald-Leader's circulation area, that's probably true, given that the percentage of the population in that area is very low, when you get to the city of Lexington, the numbers say that no, that's not the case.

     This is journolism, not journalism, this is the skewing of information to produce a false impression. If the editors are aware of what is being done in the newspaper and website they control, they are deliberately lying to their readers; if the editors are somehow not aware of what they have been doing, then they are not competent in doing their jobs, and need to be replaced.

 

 


[i]  For documentary purposes, I have included both the original link to the picture as well as my download of it, stored on this site. I do this in case the paper deletes the photo.

[ii] - This list may be out of date; looking at it, I noted that reporter Daniel Desrochers, who has moved on, is still listed, while Christopher Leach, a recent hire, is not.



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Dana Pico
Dana Pico is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and alumnus of the Patterson School of Diplomacy and international Commerce, and has written for the Kentucky Kernel, UK's student newspaper, as well as a few articles for the Lexington Herald-Leader, all in the days just after Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. He is now retired and living on his small farm on the banks of the Kentucky River. You can find more of his writings at The First Street Journal.




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