Media Kill Truth in Death Penalty Coverage
by CLIFF KINCAID
September 28, 2011
Charles Lane must be one of the loneliest people in the newsroom of The Washington Post. A member of the editorial page staff of the Post and occasional guest on the Fox News Channel, he dared to put his name on a column in the paper that carried the headline, “Troy Davis was guilty,” a reference to the convicted cop killer executed by the state of Georgia but who was declared innocent by the “progressive” community.
Davis, who had been convicted of the murder back in 1991, acknowledged he was at the scene of the crime but claimed that he didn’t pull the trigger.
But wait. Didn’t we read in the Post that “all but two eyewitnesses recanted” their testimony against him? That’s what Post reporter Sandhya Somashekhar put in her September 22 story about how the case was expected to shape a debate over the use of capital punishment.
We should hope that the case helps shape a debate about the need for our media to reports facts and not the lies and myths of those trying to abolish the death penalty. Charles Lane has begun that debate.
Amnesty International used a variation of the claim, insisting that “all but two of the state’s non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony.” So the Post distorted the matter even beyond what Davis’s apologists were saying.
Lane pointed out that Chief Judge William T. Moore of the U.S. District Court in Savannah, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, convened a hearing in June 2010 to look into the matter and that Davis’ case “crumbled” under scrutiny. He explained, “Davis’ lawyers declined to put two of Davis’ purported recanting witnesses on the stand, though they were available—one even waited outside the courtroom. Judge Moore quite logically found these omissions ‘suspicious.’ Davis’ lawyers did not call the ‘real’ shooter; nor did Davis, with his life on the line, testify. Perhaps this reflected his experience at trial, where he told his story to the jury, and the jury did not believe it.”
Lou Arcangeli, a retired deputy chief of police for the Atlanta Police Department, has offered his own view on media coverage, saying, “This case demonstrates that when a lie is unchallenged and repeated often enough it comes to be taken as fact, and truth is lost in the fog of time. The facts of Officer Mark MacPhail’s murder, and the trial that convicted Davis with its legally admissible facts, have been lost in the blitz of social media and news media misinformation.”
Going beyond this general criticism, he singled out “the lies of CNN and other television companies.” He explained, “It is an inflammatory lie when Anderson Cooper on CNN states that there is no physical evidence against Davis. The court record states that after killing Officer MacPhail, Davis fled to Atlanta, blood was found on his clothes and numerous eyewitnesses repeatedly testified to his actions that night.”
The false claim about “no physical evidence” linking him to the crime was picked up by scores of media reports.
Arcangeli noted that Savannah police officers and the Fraternal Order of Police posted the facts about the case online. The claim that “Seven of the nine non-police witnesses against Davis have recanted their testimony or contradicted the story they told in court” is listed as myth number one. But this was just one of several myths or lies about the case perpetrated by groups that used the Davis case in their campaign against the death penalty.
Another myth was the one cited by Arcangeli that “There was never any physical evidence tying Davis to the murder for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.”
“A bullet that was removed from the jaw of a man who was shot by Troy Davis earlier in the day was compared to a bullet removed from Officer MacPhail. The ballistics matched!
“During the latest Pardons and Parole Board hearing a Georgia Bureau of Investigation ballistics expert was present to testify about this evidence.
“Bloody ‘spotted’ clothing was removed from Davis’ house after he was named as a suspect. Because of the way Troy was standing above Officer MacPhail when he executed the officer he would have received a faint splatter of blood (because Officer MacPhail was on the ground most of the splatter would have been dispersed out along the ground and not upward).”
Amnesty International had listed several political and religious leaders and groups in support of clemency for Davis.
Incredibly, in the case of the Pope, it was reported that his U.S. envoy, Monsignor Martin Krebs, had sent a letter in 2007 claiming that the Davis conviction “was not based on any physical evidence”—the same falsehood that has been circulating for years.
On CNN, the prosecutor in the Davis case attacked the claim that witnesses had seriously “recanted” and also questioned Pope Benedict’s intervention. He said, “This is not something I had previously thought the Holy See had expertise in, that is to say, Georgia’s evidentiary rules.”
Spencer Lawton, the former Chatham County prosecutor, said, “There is the legal case, the case in court, and the public relations case. We have consistently won the case as it has been presented in court. We have consistently lost the case as it has been presented in the public realm, on TV and elsewhere.”
He said he had a policy of not commenting on “pending cases” but decided to speak out after the parole board denied clemency and Davis’s execution was set for September 21.
Davis’s lawyers couldn’t even find one member of the U.S. Supreme Court to vote that day to stay the execution. The application for a stay of execution “is denied,” the court said.
The point bears repeating: not even one liberal or “progressive” justice on the court would go along with the ploy.
Troy Davis and his media groupies lost. But their campaign is not over. We now have to be on the look-out for their next manufactured and orchestrated case.