criminal justice Media Criticism Scott Hechinger

New York Times Fails To See Its Own Hypocritical Practices

In a long and detailed Twitter thread, Scott Hechinger dives into the malpractices of the New York Times when it comes to reporting on certain criminal justice elements.
Pmk58, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Scott Hechinger / Twitter

The following is a thread of Tweets written by Scott Hechinger, a civil rights attorney, longtime public defender and the founder and executive director of Zealous—a national advocacy and education initiative working to topple the historic imbalance of power over criminal justice media and policy. The thread spells out an article ScheerPost finds worthy of publishing.

It’s really mind-blowing seeing the @nytimes—one of the chief purveyors of false/misleading “doomsday headlines” about crime in NY & around country—now reporting on the electoral impact of their own harmful journalism practices. And yet mentioning only other papers & “media.”

I think often about this incredible statement by @Trevornoah on the fight for better journalism on crime & safety. “The NYT has some of the most accurate reporting. You never fail to write down *exactly* whatever the police have given you to say.” More:

This is how the NYT helped spread misinformation on crime. It took @nytimes *23 paragraphs* to expose the fact that the local DA—co-Chair of Zeldin’s campaign—could’ve sought bail. But declined to. Media must do better.

The power & consequences of a headline. In the midst of a cynical assault on truth about bail reform by GOP extremist Lee Zeldin, NYT still only mustered a not-terrible, but disappointing “both-sides” story. But look at the headline. Few read beyond it. What message did it send?

The NYT lionized the hyper-carceral, chief crime propagandist. It began: “On a breezy June night in the Bronx, I was on the balcony at the restaurant Zona De Cuba, sipping a mojito, vibing to a salsa band & peeking at a special menu for the plant-based mayor of NY Eric Adams.”

The @nytimes appropriately hailed the “remarkable display of defiance” by Russian anti-war protestors.

Yet, the @nytimes blamed racial justice “protests & riots” in the US for murders.

Doesn’t matter what nuance this @nytimes article might’ve brought. Most people don’t read beyond headlines. So most people thought “progressive prosecutors” led to a “surge” in “violent crime.”

Fact: Any increases & far more decreases occurred *everywhere.* 2 lies in 1 headline.

Look at this @nytimes headline. Made it seem like Mayor’s LIE was legitimate. It took 8 full paragraphs & 332 words before reporters stated the truth:

Bail reform had nothing to do with this. Also the teen was ultimately absolved & case dismissed.

There are less overt, more sinister things that shape attitudes about those we punish. Like when an ailing man had a pig’s heart transplant & @nytimes dedicated an entire article to expose-in detail- a *34 years old* crime of his & question whether he deserves to live. Appalling.

The @nytimes hired a new pro-carceral “reporter” to spew dangerous copaganda each week.

In just this one paragraph he advocated for more violent, racist policing; claimed overpolicing is a “comprehensive” response to health issues; & throws in a scary “repeat offender” for fun.

What was really strange about this headline from @nytimes is that the article actually *throughly debunked* the Mayor’s “plan” as lacking in any evidence, facts, or reason. No connection between reform & crime. No data to support policing plan. So..Why?

I still can’t believe this one:

I’m thinking about this @nytimes column & headline legitimizing a blatant lie (police budgets up everywhere & still no health/safety) by the architect of racist overpolicing. Outrageous & dangerous stuff.

I’m thinking about how influential intellectuals with large mailing lists believe what they read in the @nytimes & then share things about the need to “refund” the police when the police weren’t defunded. Or about how “reform” is a “disaster” when reform barely exists.

I’m thinking about how after the copaganda about Walgreens closing in San Francisco bc of retail theft was thoroughly debunked & disproven, the @nytimes then jumped into fray & published an article amplifying the lie about it all over again.

Thinking of how the @nytimes allowed a police chief & police consultant to push the ACTUAL FALSEHOOD that a rise in homicides is a result of “social justice protests, & bail reform efforts.”

Just inexcusable.

I’m thinking about how this @nytimes headline should’ve read: “A year after the murder of George Floyd, police budgets in every major city increased, which should force cities to reassess why they continue to invest billions in a failed strategy.”

Here’s @nytimes using dehumanizing language & fearmongering about people being tortured on Rikers Island.

When fearmongering was at all time high in NY prior to bail reform, @nytimes interviewed one of the Jewish victims of an alleged “hate crime.” She bravely called for her assailant to get help. Not jail. Decried exploitation.

Didn’t include her in the story.

Just last week, The NYT claimed—contrary to an extraordinary body of now years worth of non-partisan research, including a GOP commissioned report which backfired to prove bail reforms success—that “research is inconclusive.”

This is unethical & provably false journalism.

I almost lost my mind when the NYT ran a front page story lying to millions of readers that police had been defunded & then blamed rising crime on “defunding” of police!

I’m exhausted of critiquing the @nytimes. But can’t stop. Won’t stop. They are so influential. “The paper of record.” Literally forming & molding millions & millions of minds & beliefs about criminal system everyday. And it’s so often so tilted toward power. At expense of truth. 

Better journalistic practices are a racial & social justice imperative. More thoughts in this thread on problematic current practices & what journalists & consumers of news can do right now to improve:

In this piece, I offer a roadmap for journalists & editors. “Media outlets, editors, & reporters need to turn to sources beyond just police & prosecutors, convey genuine nuance in their reporting & headlines, and stop the use of dehumanizing language.”

Some additional critical resources.

Check out Legal experts, organizers, policy analysts, public defenders, and people with direct experience responding with nuance to false reporting on safety in NY.

Some additional critical resources.

Follow the Center for Just Journalism (@centerforjj) and their work below. A new Center dedicated to calling in and supporting journalists to improve their reporting practices around safety issues.

My organization——supports local coalitions of defenders, organizers, & people w/ direct experience to topple the imbalance of power over crime policy & media.

One big way: Connect local experts w/ journalists. Heres how to support:…

I got to spend close to an hour chatting w/ Errol Louis on all of this last week. A true legend in journalism. Covered a lot. Including how to talk w/ friends, family, & other folks about crime & punishment.

Listen here.

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Scott Hechinger
Scott Hechinger

For nearly a decade, Scott served as a public defender in Brooklyn, representing people charged with crimes who couldn’t afford an attorney, but also long shared his perspective as a public defender outside of court in a variety of media to shift the narrative and drive systemic change. 

Scott founded and now Executive Directs Zealous to build on the successes of the model developed at Brooklyn Defender Services and the promise of non-traditional legal advocacy, media and movements for defenders, social justice leaders, communities, and artists. Scott speaks widely, lectures at law schools and universities, advises companies and organizations on criminal justice media projects and campaigns, and his work and commentary are regularly featured in a range of major national and local outlets. Scott serves as Lecturer-In-Law at Columbia University Law School.

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