[Pnews] If Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Case Is a ‘Non-Issue,’ Why Have Media Gone to Such Lengths to Silence Him?If Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Case Is a ‘Non-Issue,’ Why Have Media Gone to Such Lengths to Silence Him?
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat May 1 21:58:42 EDT 2021
Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Case Is a ‘Non-Issue,’ Why Have Media Gone to Such
Lengths to Silence Him?
Janine Jackson - May 1, 2021
Philadelphia public broadcaster *WHYY* (4/24/21
was one of the few outlets to report on an April 24 rally seeking the
release from prison of Mumia Abu-Jamal
<https://archive.prisonradio.org/mumia.htm>. The story included important
information on Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life sentence for the 1981
killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
It noted that the case has “drawn scrutiny” over claims of police,
prosecutorial and judicial bias and misconduct. It cited new evidence
released as part of the appeal process, including a note from a key
prosecution witness asking the prosecuting attorney for money—the sort of
evidence that Johanna Fernandez, a history professor and part of
Abu-Jamal’s legal team, notes has in other instances led to a defendant
either being set free or getting an immediate new trial.
Along with Fernandez, the piece includes the voices of Abu-Jamal’s brother
Keith Cook, and MOVE member Pam Africa, as well as people who traveled from
around the country to call attention to Abu-Jamal’s case, his current state
of health—he has a number of debilitating conditions, and has just had
heart surgery—and to put his story in a context of political prisoners here
and around the world.
I confess I was still irked by *WHYY* using its lead paragraph to frame the
story like this:
The case has pitted Abu-Jamal’s supporters, including a long list of
national and international celebrities who say he was framed, against
police and their supporters, who resent the attention given to a man
convicted of murdering a fellow officer.
It bugs me, because those were the themes decades ago when Abu-Jamal was
first convicted and sentenced to death (*Voices With Vision*, 4/27/21
That he was a “cause celebre”—and therefore, wink wink, something something
about liberal Hollywood, no need to pay attention—and that the upset of
anyone concerned about his deeply flawed trial or his inappropriate
sentencing was merely theatrical, because, after all, he was “convicted,”
Open to lies
Elite media at the time were open to straight-up lies: A 1995 *Washington
Post* story (5/18/95
led with a macabre account from Faulkner’s widow, Maureen Faulkner, about
how when her husband’s bloody shirt was held up in court, Abu-Jamal turned
around and smiled at her. Except attorney Leonard Weinglass and the court
record show that Abu-Jamal wasn’t in court when the shirt was
[image: FAIR: The Media & Mumia: Were ABC and Vanity Fair Taken for a Ride?]
*ABC‘s 20/20 (7/11/99) returned to the Mumia Abu-Jamal story with a
breathless report of an improbable jailhouse confession (FAIR.org, 8/11/99
*ABC*‘s investigative news show *20/20* (12/9/98) employed a number of
techniques for their big 1998 piece—stating prosecution claims as fact,
even when they were disputed by some of the prosecution’s own witnesses or
the forensic record; stressing how a defense witness admitted being
intoxicated, while omitting that prosecution witnesses said the same (*Extra!
Update*, 2/99 <https://fair.org/extra/sam-donaldson-hanging-judge/>).
At one point, actor and activist Ed Asner is quoted saying, “No ballistic
tests were done, which is pretty stupid”—but then host Sam Donaldson’s
voiceover cuts him off: “But ballistics test *were* done,” he says,
referring to tests that suggested that the bullet that killed Faulkner
might have been the same caliber as Abu-Jamal’s gun. But he didn’t note
that tests had *not* been done to determine whether that gun had fired the
bullet, or whether it had been fired at all, or if there were gunpowder
residues on Abu-Jamal’s hands.
Producers from *People’s Video Network* told FAIR at the time (*Extra!
Update*, 2/99 <https://fair.org/extra/sam-donaldson-hanging-judge/>) that
*ABC* not only used clips they’d recorded from Abu-Jamal without
permission, but they added layers of echo, making him sound, they said,
“like a cave-dwelling animal.”
No one was too surprised when it was revealed that in a letter asking
permission from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to interview
Abu-Jamal (a request that was denied), *20/20* pointed out that “we are
currently working in conjunction with Maureen Faulkner and the Philadelphia
Fraternal Order of Police” (*Extra! Update*, 2/99
The main story has been no story
After that, the main story has been non-coverage.
For instance, in 2006, when Abu-Jamal won the right to appeal on three
grounds—including a jury purged of Black people, the prosecutor lowering
jurors’ sense of responsibility by saying their decision “would not be
final,” and the fact that judge Albert Sabo was all kinds of
Daily News* told reporter Dave Lindorff that it was a “non-issue” (*Extra!*,
when a judge overturned the death sentence in 2001, the paper (12/19/01)
found time to editorialize: “Let Mumia Rot in Darkness.”
The late great media critic Ed Herman (*Extra!*, 9–10/00
<https://fair.org/extra/hometown-hostility/>) reported how the *Philadelphia
Inquirer* wouldn’t cover rallies and tribunals in support of Abu-Jamal,
calling them “stunts,” but when the Fraternal Order of Police bought a
full-page ad in the *New York Times*, that merited a story.
In 2000, when Amnesty International declared that the original trial was
“deeply flawed,” the *Inky* (2/18/00) made it the fifth “news brief” on
But if Mumia Abu Jamal’s case is a non-issue that only celebrities care
about, why the active silencing?
[image: Extra!: Witness for the Prosecution]
*NPR‘s Scott Simon (8/19/99) “skillfully provided a brief for the
prosecution under the pretense of covering both sides” (Extra!, 11–12/95).*
In 1994, *NPR* cancelled plans for a series of commentaries from
Abu-Jamal—who is, after all, a journalist, a former head of the
Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists—after Senator Bob Dole
threatened their funding. They said it was because it was a “highly
polarized and political controversy”—which they proceeded to say nothing
about for the following year (*Extra!*, 11–12/95
When *Democracy Now!* prepared to air commentaries, station *KRTI*, out of
Philadelphia’s Temple University, cancelled the show and all of *Pacifica*
news (*Extra! Update*, 4/97 <http://wp.me/p2AI9o-nnth>), with a station VP
explaining: “What’s good enough for *NPR* is good enough for me.”
And when a Vermont college aired a taped commencement address from
Abu-Jamal, it led Philadelphia lawmakers to throw together something called
the Revictimization Relief Act, allowing crime victims or prosecutors to
sue inmates whose behavior behind bars “creates mental anguish” for the
victims. Clearly unconstitutional, violating both free speech and due
process rights, it was dubbed the Silencing Act by many, who noted that it
didn’t just curtail prisoners’ right to speak, but journalists’ and all of
our rights to hear them (*FAIR.org*, 10/22/14
Media’s response was a shrug: The *New York Times* ran an *AP* piece (
with the headline “Pennsylvania: Gov Signs Law to Help Protect Crime
Elite media would have us believe they are engaged in a serious reckoning
with the racism of the US criminal justice system, that they care about
over-incarceration and prison conditions. And keeping people behind bars
just because powerful people want them there, and not due to the merits of
their case? Well, that’s what Other Countries do.
If only there were a case, 40 years’ worth of case, that would allow them
to explore those ideals—if not to do justice by Mumia Abu-Jamal (they can’t
return what’s been taken from him), then to do some semblance of justice by
their own claims of concern.
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