Friday, September 14, 2007

Can You Be Indignant And A Journalist?

AFTER A SCHOOLYARD brawl in 2006, six black students at a high school in Jena, Louisiana were charged with attempted murder. The victim, a white student, was treated and released within a few hours.

One of the black students was convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit it by an all white jury in July. Next week, on September 20, his sentencing hearing will begin. He faces up to 22 years in prison.

The brawl occurred two months after three hangman's nooses were found hanging from a tree in the schoolyard.

The three white students accused of hanging the nooses were suspended for a few days. No white students were charged with crimes after the schoolyard brawl.

There is an appearance that the black students are being punished more harshly than the white students. When given more context from other recent, similar cases, the charges against the "Jena 6" seem extreme.

Can you be an objective journalist and cover this case? Can you overlook perceived injustices and simply report the facts that come out during the trials and hearings?

Or should you use your pulpit as a journalist to fight for causes like this? Shouldn't you stand up and scream for things to be better?

Can you put aside who you are (and what you believe in) and be neutral? Should you?

UPDATE FROM 9/15: Judges throws out conviction for one black student. Future still uncertain since he might be retried as a juvenile. The other Jena 6 have yet to be tried, and three still await attempted murder charges.


Kylee said...

I do not think I would be able to be objective in this case; I just don't have the heart to be.

Doanh said...

I believe it is very possible to be objective. As a journalist, you can present different facts and opinions and let viewers decide, even if you don't agree with those sides. You can state that the trial seemed unfairly biased, but you cannot say that it WAS unfairly biased. It is the viewer's opinion as to whether it is or not.

On NPR, they often have debates during interviews where the journalist presents different arguments for more than one side of the story. It shows the journalist's neutrality; this is how NPR earns respect and trust. Fox news on the other hand, is at the other end of the spectrum, interrupting anyone they don't agree with and telling guests to shut their mouths.

John D. said...

If the trial was so unjust and you expose what truly went on in the courts then wouldn't people be able to see the obvious injustice and rise up against it?

(22 years for fighting is ridiculous)

John D. said...

"Race case teen's conviction tossed"

Geo said...

Yo Doanh -

You say that presenting the facts and letting the viewers decide is the way to go? Isn't that what the defense attorney did during the trial? That didn't turn out so good for his client.

Presenting both sides doesn't always bring out the truth. It brings out two different versions of the truth.

By simply presenting both sides, are you being a good journalist? If our obligation is to the truth, how do find it? How far do we need to go?

- George (the teacher)

Doanh said...

I really don’t know how to answer that entirely. I just personally feel that I (or anyone with common sense) don’t need to be spoon fed obvious information.

It didn’t turn out good for his client, most likely because they had a biased jury. They were all white. Isn’t that a fact? I thought justice system is obligated to do rigorous screenings to find diverse, appropriate jurors. Did that rule go out the window? How do they even know that the students had the intent to kill if it was just a high school fight?

Journalists go as far as presenting concrete evidence. They can have guests and commentators present their opinions. No journalist can risk being labeled biased toward a certain side.

Crystal Hawkins said...

Wow. The white kid didn't have any life threatening injuries, and yet somehow these black kids are being charged for attempted murder? As a journalist, I could probably tell this story objectively, there are facts, so I'd write them. But I don't think I'd just want to stick to the facts in the police report, or wherever.

There's something obviously wrong here and I think if loads of people are going to be reading what I'm saying, I would at least ask them to use their common sense. Blacking someone's eye is hardly trying to murder them. If the attackers were white, would they have just gotten off with a suspension? A detention?

A. Barber said...

The facts involving this incident will reveal what this issue is truly about. It is crucial for any journalist to be objective in this matter and provide everyone with all of the facts and background information from both sides of the story. However, for anyone to deny that there is an obvious injustice here is being dishonest. Even if you look at the facts from both perspectives, it is clear that something just doesn't add up (and that isn't me being biased or opinionated, its black and white, pure fact)
I think a journalist can be purely objective and 'tell it like it is' as well.

Anonymous said...

I do think that it is possible to report the story objectively. I believe that it is the responsibility of the journalist to report the story to the public in an unbiased manner. If a journalist is assigned to this issue, and is unable to report in an objective article, then I think that it should be reassigned to another journalist who has no opinion or bias toward the story.
M. Murtaugh

Noonan said...

ok well considering that these are 2 totally different situations, it has no bias to race at all... three white students hang nooses at the school is like a prank, no one got hurt... but three black kids beat the shit out of someone and almost kill him, kinda reminds me of the situation that just happened at kutztown so it was 2 totally different situations, one with an almost death and the other no one is hurt at all... so where is the real bias here?

doanh said...

If he left the hospital the same day he was admitted, no way was he "almost killed." The noose is a symbol of lynching Black people. This is clearly a race issue.

No one was hurt at Kutztown? A random kid got beaten to death for nothing. That's totally unrelated.

davonne said...

YES! i would be able to be completely objective with this story. i agree with majority of my classmates when they say that reporting the facts will show the injustice here. there was a great point brought up about the jury selection process. i have been summoned to jury selection and they do go through rigorous questionings and asking jurors to step down and calling others up and going through a questionaire over and over before they pick who they want to participate. obviously the process here was either slighted or skipped. this information would also be included in my coverage of the story because it is a fact, in my opinion non-bias, that would help show some of the injustice with this case.
my question is what was the initial punishment for these young black male for their actions? were they going to be initially only suspended and then the victims parents pressed charges or was this route the punishment from the beginning?

donnie d said...

Could I be objective? Yes. I agree though with what Crystal said. I wouldn't want to. This is crap. First, I do beleive that the noose incident has VERY loose racial implications. I don't think you can say it was a fact without more research that it was racially motivated.

As far as the jury goes, you can't say that it was intended or worked as an all white jury. If u do some research, you'll find a very small number of black people came to the jury summons. They could have been removed from the pool for various reasons. Also, note that the defense lawyer would be picking people open minded about race.

I think the only real obvious injustice is the harshness of this punishment. That's where i think the story is, not in the failings of the justice system or in white kids getting off light (because i think they were punished sufficiently).

Shannon Phillips said...

I think this case is a form of racism and they are treating the six African American students very harshally. Its not right

Emily Gleason said...

I think this story of "crime" and "punishment" is just another example of our failed prison system in America.
Everyone wants to focus on the race issue- which i agree is their- but i feel that this is about something bigger. This is about a phenomenon sabotaging the success of America's youth. When it comes to young people who break the law, I think the focus should be on education, counseling, and rehabilitation. Why not make them right a wrong by doing good by others? I feel that sending a 16 of 17 year old to juvie or jail for an extended period of time more than a few months) is only comfirming their status as a criminal in society. Lumping a bunch of angry and violent men/boys together is only going to escalate their violent and anrgy behavior. I think that we need to take a look at WHY crimes are being commited. We as a society need to look at the individual and think how can we help this person to stop exhibiting this destructive behavior. These boys in the Jena 6 still deserve a chance to excel in life, they just need someone to regognize their potential and see them as something besides violent. Sending them to prison for 20 years is worse than a death sentence as far as I am concerned.

Colleen Reese said...

Sometimes I think that biases are very necessary. Think back to cases like Little Rock and the Little Rock Nine. If journalists and the media published accounts from both sides it would not have the same humanism that it does now. The media in this case, and in many others, needs to illustrate the suffering and overcoming of people because that's the truth. The mob behind the Little Rock Nine were not the truth. They were not people telling what is "right," they were screaming horrible lies and old-standing traditions of hate.

In this case I think that opinions are very necessary because they convey to the public that what was happening was not just a debate of factuality; this is a question of morals and outdated practices. The truth is not what is on the surface, it is what is happening ! It's the deep, down, dug up dirt.

I also heard that a superintendent threatened a group of black students while they were protesting underneath the trees (this was after the how noose atrocity was brushed off as a "prank"). I think that saying that she was being unfair and completely and utterly wrong IS the truth.

colleen reese said...

"Could I be objective? Yes. I agree though with what Crystal said. I wouldn't want to. This is crap. First, I do beleive that the noose incident has VERY loose racial implications. I don't think you can say it was a fact without more research that it was racially motivated."

Visit that site.

I know you've seen this picture. Can you really still say that? Nooses are a very historically clear, vivid meaning in America. Everyone knows that image.

Kourtney Bailey said...

I cant believe such racism, and dangerous racial tension still exists today! Its shocking, stagnate and very upsetting.

Nicholas Todorow said...

I think it is the journalists' responsiblity, especialy in this case, to be objective and let the viewer decide whether or not it is wrong. People should see the obvious wrongs in this case and I believe that it is up to the people, not journalist, to fix these problems.

bmiller said...

It's best to be objective and report solid facts. As a sort of a loop hole, if this is an issue that you feel passionate about, such as myself, you can use the 14th ammendment about equality to fight it, argue the situation. Just as it was used in Brown vs. Board of Education. Fight justice with the law and still report the facts.

donnie d said...


I won't argue that history would support the assumption its racially motivated. But thats what it is, an ASSUMPTION. You run a dangerous line when u stop asking questions and start filling in the blanks.

Something isn't right here, from our perspective at least. I don't think we need to dig up every crack pot in the world to get the other side so to speak. But I want to know what the students themselves say on the incident. Seems logical enough. I want to know what the court transcript was. I want to know how this got to court in the first place.

A lot of question i realize, and if i find answers i'll post them. All im saying though, is everyone is quick to start pointing fingers at people for their supposed wrongs. Journalists are there to help look out for people. By working on behalf of these black students and comdemning the white, aren't you, in a form, discriminating? Or are you saying six black kids take precendence over the lives of three white ones?

It all gets really tedious. Like i said, I would look more to the harshness and illogical punishment rather than all the racial implications. They are there, but i feel people will percieve it without my needing to tell them.

Chris said...

Interesting comments...
I believe I could be neutral for the story. I don't think neutral means playing the middle, I think it is presenting the facts and letting that speak for what it is.
I think to try and say this is not about race, or that the nooses were not necessarily racist, is bullshit. I have read about this case pretty extensively, and to suggest it's not is preposterous.

Victoria H. said...

As a Black Journalist I would definitely push to have this story out there(with as much facts, and as little of a bias, even though there would be a somewhat bias because of the nature of this case and who I am as a Black person honestly) in prime-time for the vast news audience to take the information and make their own opinion.

I think that's what a journalist has to do, because I don't think you can be an opinion-less person and consumers of media have to understand they have to read or watch different news to gain some of the spectrum of an event.

But I definitely see the injustices of the prison system, where surprisingly, the prisoners are Black Men.

alicia said...

I think there is no room for neutrality in a case like this. If a journalist believes in and supports the Jena 6, they should speak on it and use their platform to make people aware of what happened. The journalist who broke the story doesn't seem to take sides but admits there is a problem sooooome people are trying to ignore. Btw everyone Thursday, September 20 is officially Black Thursday and a great day to bring out that black power, gothic, serious journalist person we all know is in there. Wear all black, some black, black in places where the sun don't shine, write with a black pen all day, whatevs.
No justice, no peace.

MJ Gentile said...

Journalists who have any conscience should be reporting on this. It is a good chance to support these boys living in a racist town, caught up in a racist legal system. Journalists have power to influence how the public perceives the truth. They should use that power to make the world a little more humane to all people.

Chelsea Coia said...

No I would not be able to overlook the perceived injustices and simply report the facts. The plain old facts do not sympathize for the black people that are being put in such a hard situation. I think that the white boys who hung the nooses should be expelled. There is obvious racial tension at this school.There is no way that this white kid thought he could get away with calling the black kids the n-word without them retaliating. I'm sure that the black kids were infuriated when they heard that word come out of that kid's mouth. If anyone were to put themselves in the shoes of a black person they should be able to understand how much frustration they have inside of them after the nooses were hung on that tree. Not only were they already extremely upset about the nooses being hung on that tree, but the fact that this white kid had the nerve to call them the n-word.These black kids didn't kill this white boy, and the white boy went to a school function later that night. Obviously this white kid was not hurt that badly by these black kids. The white kid was antagonizing these black kids and he deserved to get his ass kicked! The last thing the black kids deserved was to be sentenced 22 years in jail.

Anonymous said...

I think that this case would be hard to write about because I am so biased about this particular issue. Even if I attempted to be moderate my opinions would probably creep into little parts of the issue.

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