See Something, Say Something #8

Regular Media Criticism from The Shoestring

In a new media column, The Shoestring will reflect on recent local news.


End the Violence

Masslive reported on the adoption of new police training technology in Yarmouth, MA, where police officer, Sean Gannon, was shot and killed last year. Purchased using only donated funds from a tidal wave of support following Gannon’s death, the Multiple Interactive Learning Objectives, or MILO, system allows officers to simulate a wide variety of scenarios using videos of actors and “light guns.” Despite the system’s ability to simulate routine traffic stops and other more common interactions with the public, the officers are inaugurating the system with a hostage situation—something that hasn’t happened on Cape Cod since 1998.

Asked by a lieutenant what the primary objective is in an active shooter incident, the officers using the simulator promptly respond, “end the violence.”

Yet as much as police departments and communities plead for an end to violence in the wake of Cape Cod’s recent shootings of police, ramping up trainings for situations that rarely occur and encourage officers to consider every passerby a potentially deadly threat is unlikely to lead to such a result. Based on what we’re told of the incident from the Cape Cod Times and other outlets, Officer Gannon’s killer seems less like a bloodthirsty criminal mastermind and more like someone who desperately did not want to be returned to prison after missing a drug test, and could not even compute that shooting at a cop would only make this outcome—or worse—even more likely. As long as the threats of beating, electrocution, restraint, or imprisonment loom over every interaction civilians have with police, the violence of incarceration will occasionally discharge back in their direction when a desperate individual miscalculates their odds against the greatest project of involuntary confinement in human history. The facility that bears Gannon’s name may prevent police fatalities in the future, but certainly will not “end the violence.” — Brian Zayatz

Of the streets

Last month, the Daily Hampshire Gazette decided to inject a little editorial flair into their report on a patron who was forcibly removed from Forbes Library. Staff writer Bera Dunau kicked off the second graf of “Man faces charges in library incident” (print edition) by writing:

“Police said they were called to remove Sean Donahoo, 50, of the streets of Northampton…”

Putting aside the dubious ethics of publishing the name of someone as-of-yet-unconvicted of anything in the paper of record, as well as the unexplained decision of law enforcement personnel to discharge pepper spray in a heavily-trafficked establishment rather than, say, ensure the availability of medical aid (it is reported the patron was vomiting ,unsteady, and bore recent, visible injuries): Inside this veritable puzzle box of uncritical reporting is a phrase the Gazette loves, “of the streets of Northampton.”

While this isn’t the first time the Gazette has chosen to deploy this particular designation, it bears asking, now and every time: Why? When referencing town residents with fixed addresses, a simple “of [x town]” is appended. In this case, if the information had to be published, it seems “of Northampton” would do.

Is Dunau setting readers up to carry their own biases regarding the houseless and cops into the story? With this recurring style decision, does the Gazette intend to segregate those living in Northampton city limits without real estate or lease agreements into a different caste – potentially with different rights or expectations? The only pertinence housing status has to the incident in question is related to the subject’s ability to be ill somewhere besides the scarce indoor public space Northampton affords its inhabitants. It seems fairly clear that the staff of the Gazette would rather locate the discomfort of the incident in the corpus of the houseless, rather than in the discomfort of a society and community which has failed to adequately supply the needs of all its members. — Charlotte Murtishaw

Gazette Coverage of Stop and Shop Strike

On April 16th, instead of framing a conflict between workers and capital during the 11 day Stop & Shop strike, The Gazette profiled a worker who left the union and crossed the picket line, and thus implied that the conflict was between union and non union employees. The article centers worker Matt Coffey, who criticizes the union, questioning its competence, and offers rhetorically vague statements like “it’s not as simple as being pro or anti union.” (Simple enough, however, to cross the picket line.)

The same day, The Shoestring published original coverage of the strike, which included information about a 11.1% — $880 million — raise given to shareholders, authorized on April 10th, the day before the strike began. This information is omitted in the profile of Coffey as well an editorial written by the paper’s Editorial Board after the strike reached a “tentative agreement.” The editorial equivocated, suggesting near the top that “Strikes are never as cut and dry as winners and losers.” While not mentioning the raise given to shareholders, the Editorial Board fixated on how the strike was hurting the company: “For the company, the strike meant the loss of money — lots of it [~$80-100 million]. Yes, Stop & Shop is owned by Dutch corporation Ahold Delhaize, the fourth-largest supermarket owner in the United States. But it still has a bottom line to meet. Going 11 days with limited or no sales, as some of its 400-plus stores in the Northeast were closed, hurts.”

The editorial board also feigned sympathy for the workers, opining that the strike would hurt their pockets, too. (Maybe they don’t know how strikes work?)

It doesn’t take a Marxian economist to see that shareholders got a bigger raise. But in order to know that, the media must, at the very least, publish the numbers. — Will Meyer

Who will hold prosecutors accountable? Not The Gazette!

In one of the most ham handed and bizzare editorials I’ve ever read, on March 23rd, the Editorial Board served up what can only be described as a round of self-owning media criticism.

Describing slimy and shady dealings by Assistant District Attorney Stephen Gagne, the Board had trouble finding an angle or taking a side. Gagne had written a letter to a judge wrongly accusing defense attorney Dana Goldblatt of saying in court that she wanted to kill a police officer, attempting (and failing) to bar her from taking cases involving the NPD (where she has been quite successful). Although Gagne’s initial letter to the judge admits that the court clerk she was speaking with did not hear her say this, and that his letter has been widely criticized by the legal community, the Board praises the DA’s office for “taking positive steps aimed at ensuring the situation doesn’t happen again.”

Instead of blasting DA Sullivan for taking Gagne’s side publicly and for enabling gross misconduct, the Board placed the burden on the DA’s office to “include ethics training and the establishment of an ethics panel to review complaints against DA employees and defense attorneys.”

(The article also referenced a City Council meeting in which Goldblatt called police officers “violence workers” and suggested in the op-ed that she “tone down her rhetoric.” 🙄)

What the Gazette demonstrates in failing to a) defend Goldblatt and b) fully condemn actions by the top two prosecutors of the district is the paper’s inability to hold law enforcement accountable to the public. —WM

Fraudulent reporting on “fraud”

Logging onto Masslive.com on the afternoon of April 11th, the top of the page featured a story titled “Welfare fraud arrest in Holyoke is latest Massachusetts case as millions are stolen yearly.” Filed under the “expo” section of the website, presumably an “expose,” the piece charted a small handful of arrests related to the approximately $14 million dollars of “welfare fraud” — this occurs when a benefit recipient sells their benefits to another party. The Center for Budget and Policy, which studies public assistance programs, found that about 1 percent of SNAP benefits are sold to other parties.

The article contained a mugshot of a person who who has plead “not guilty” to the alleged crime courtesy of the Hampden County DA’s office.

It also warned: “In many cases, the state will go after people through criminal or civil actions to recoup the money.”

Something the article didn’t address is a new study out this month from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy detailing the extent to which Fortune 500 companies paid zero dollars in federal taxes. The study found that corporations, like Amazon and Netflix, which paid no taxes — not the ones that paid almost no taxes — would have paid $16.4 billion in corporate taxes.

It remains unclear “if the state will go after [executives from these companies] through criminal or civil actions to recoup the money.” — WM

The New York Times amplifies voice of Jeff Sessions, proves reliably out of touch

On Wednesday, April 24th over 200 students and activists came together to protest Amherst College’s hosting of one-time Trump-appointed Attorney General and longtime white supremacist, carceral state profiteer, civil liberty dismantler, and all-around uncharming relic of the Confederacy, Jeff Sessions. The next day The New York Times took to covering the story in a way that bared little resemblance to what an interested person on the ground might have observed, let alone an interested reporter.

While The Times focused mostly on repeating the political rhetoric Sessions delivered to a crowd of about 100, primarily about his stance on the Mueller report, the obvious lead was hiding in plain sight. The Times’ own previous reporting showed that the Young America’s Foundation, the group who funded and sponsored Sessions’ speaking engagement (as well as Andrew Puzder’s simultaneous engagement at UMass), is a “charitable foundation” with a $36 million budget funded by omnipresent swamp creatures like the Koch brothers and Amway heirs. Sending far-right celebs to campuses in hopes of baiting the left, getting sympathetic media coverage and scoring culture war points in the name of “free speech” is their well-honed move.

But this wasn’t mentioned at all; and more than half the article, 328 words in total, passed by before there was any mention of the dissenting voices across the quad. When NYT did finally touch on what non-millionaires said, they got it wrong. The well-worn protest chant, “No justice, no peace, no racist police” was apparently misheard and then printed as “no racist beliefs,” incorrectly putting defanged words in hundreds of protesters’ mouths. If racism was simply a belief and not also a persistent system of state-sanctioned violences, not limited to but including the institution that is policing in America, then perhaps this mistake could be chalked up as benign. But in reality it was a telling slip, further obfuscating the pointed critique of white supremacy the protestors were literally shouting. With all the straining to hear Sessions’ well-funded speech, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they couldn’t hear the majority of people who showed up. — Harrison Greene


Will Meyer and Harrison Greene are co-editors of The Shoestring. Brian Zayatz is a frequent contributor to The Shoestring, his most recent piece was on Hampshire College. Charlotte Murtishaw is a contributor to The Shoestring.

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