by Hans Bennett
June 26, 2008
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Despite an important NY Times article written on the day of The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal‘s release in May, the mainstream media has virtually ignored this powerful new book which argues in painstaking detail that Abu-Jamal is innocent and that the actual shooter of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner was a man named Kenneth Freeman. The one exception to this media blackout was an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, by Milan Simonich. Instead of ignoring it like the rest of the mainstream media, Simonich chose to dishonestly present the book, contending that O’Connor “is guilty of writing the sloppiest, most one-sided crime book of the year,” by mixing “recycled conspiracy theories with his own sweeping pronouncements, most devoid of fact.”
To learn more about Framing and the meticulous arguments made by O’Connor, you can watch my video-interview with him at Philadelphia City Hall on the day of the book’s release (PARTS 1, 2, and 3) and read my text-interview with him a few weeks before that, which focused on how exactly the frame-up happened, Kenneth Freeman, the March 27 court ruling, and Frank Rizzo’s legacy. Abu-Jamal-News.com also features an excerpt, a previous interview, O’Connor’s review of “Murdered By Mumia,” and his response to the March 27 ruling.
For irrefutable evidence of mainstream media bias against the world famous death-row journalist considered by many to be a political prisoner, just compare this coverage of Framing to last December’s release of Murdered By Mumia, written by Michael Smerconish and Maureen Faulkner. The attention was massive and almost uniformly absent of any serious questioning of the book’s assertion that Abu-Jamal received a fair trial and that the evidence of his guilt is clear-cut. The Philadelphia Inquirer actually featured three days worth of excerpts from Murdered, but would not even mention any of the criticism of the book from Abu-Jamal’s supporters.
On December 4, two days before the book’s release, Journalists for Mumia organized a press conference to present our side of the story, arguing that Abu-Jamal did not receive a fair trial, and that there is evidence of his innocence that the court needs to consider. Along with a presentation of the newly discovered crime scene photos, our event featured Pam Africa (of The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal) and local journalists Linn Washington Jr, David Love, and David Lindorff who passionately argued for the legitimacy of the new photos as an important story deserving of media coverage, which they argued was just one more reason that Abu-Jamal needs a new trial. Despite my personal invitation to every Philadelphia media outlet I could find, not one single reporter from the local mainstream media covered our event. The only mainstream coverage came from British journalist Jon Hurdle of Reuters.
Hurdle’s article was the very first mainstream report of the new crime scene photos, and his article was cited the following week on Philadelphia’s NPR show Radio Times, and in an uncharacteristic Philadelphia Weekly article, which challenged Smerconish and Faulkner’s argument that the Abu-Jamal/Faulkner case is “open and shut”. While not cited directly on the controversial Dec. 6 Today Show, by co-host Matt Lauer, Hurdle’s article almost certainly helped persuade the Today Show to air the photos and, therefore, become the first television show to even acknowledge them.
By asking Faulkner and Smerconish challenging questions and accurately representing what Abu-Jamal supporters were saying about the photos, Lauer and the Today Show became the clear exception to the rule. As a result, right-wing media critics went crazy with outrage, and both Faulkner and Smerconish publicly vented their anger at Lauer, particularly for his last question to Faulkner: “Maureen, when you’re ever, when you’re alone, when you’re alone with your thoughts at night, when you even see pictures of the protest like the one we have across the street, does it ever cross your mind that perhaps they’re right? Do you ever allow yourself to consider the fact that perhaps he didn’t do this?”
Following the Today Show, I frantically sent personal emails to all of the same mainstream media folks (both local and national) that I invited to our Dec.4 press conference, and said: “Hey, this story of the crime scene photos is getting even more credibility! Isn’t this news now? Isn’t it only fair to present the opinions of Abu-Jamal’s supporters alongside those of Faulkner and Smerconish?” To top this off, I told the media about the slideshow presentation of the photos I would be giving on Dec. 8, for which I had contracted the use of the photos so that the media could film the event and therefore feature the photos on their news program. Guess what? Not one reporter showed up!
If these December events are not proof enough of the media’s inexcusable bias, just compare this to the abhorrent treatment of The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Faulkner, Smerconish, and other advocates of Abu-Jamal’s execution constantly say to “read the transcripts” for clear evidence of a fair trial and Abu-Jamal’s guilt. Now, here is a book that is based almost entirely on the court transcripts, but the author argues that these transcripts reveal a frame-up of a factually innocent man! This is not published by a leftist Abu-Jamal support group, but rather by an established publishing house. The most basic notions of journalistic fairness demand that Framing be given equal coverage, so that the public can hear both side of the debate and decide for themselves what they think of this case
This media blackout of Framing is even more scandalous following the May 2 NY Times article by Jon Hurdle, who also wrote the Dec.4 Reuters article. Being recognized in the NY Times should have been an impetus for more coverage by other media outlets, but instead, the mainstream media was uniformly silent until the dishonest May 18 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, by Milan Simonich. Immediately after reading the article that day, I submitted this “letter to the editor,” but it was not published:
Milan Simonich “is guilty of writing the sloppiest, most one-sided” book review “of the year.” This dishonest review (5/18) gives further credibility to author J. Patrick O’Connor’s allegation of mainstream media bias against death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal.
As detailed in an interview at Abu-Jamal-News.com, O’Connor does not “ignore the prosecution’s side of the story.” He doesn’t interview either the prosecution or defense. Instead, he relies entirely on the court transcripts and a few mainstream news articles to argue that the actual shooter of PO Daniel Faulkner was a man named Kenneth Freeman (who was mysteriously found dead the day after the infamous May 13, 1985 police bombing of MOVE). This transcript-based approach is powerful, because Abu-Jamal’s critics always say to “read the transcripts” for proof of a fair 1982 trial and Abu-Jamal’s guilt.
Simonich writes that O’Connor ignores/downplays Abu-Jamal’s alleged “hospital confession.” Actually, this alleged confession is central to the book’s “frame-up” thesis, because he (like Amnesty International) sees it as an obvious fraud. The “witnesses” allegedly forgot about the confession for over 2 months! While a hospital security guard did testify at the 82 trial that she immediately reported it to her supervisor, the trial was the very first time she mentioned this report, and she actually disavowed the alleged written (and unsigned) report that the prosecution presented in court. Further, her supervisor was never called to testify!
Sounds fishy, huh? This is just one part of the obvious frame-up that O’Connor exposes.
Then, a few days after writing the Post-Gazette, I wrote this letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which was also not published:
I am disappointed that The Inquirer has yet to acknowledge the new book The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, by J. Patrick O’Connor. Just released by Chicago Review Press, it has been featured by the NY Times, and at my website, Abu-Jamal-News.com.
Advocates of Abu-Jamal’s execution always say to ‘read the transcripts’ for proof of a fair 1982 trial and Abu-Jamal’s guilt. However, O’Connor cites the trial transcripts to argue that police framed Abu-Jamal, and that the actual shooter of Officer Faulkner was a man named Kenneth Freeman, who was mysteriously found dead in a Northeast lot (reportedly naked, gagged, hand-cuffed, and with a drug needle in his arm) the day after the infamous May 13, 1985 police bombing of MOVE.
When Maureen Faulkner and Michael Smerconish released ‘Murdered by Mumia’ in December, The Inquirer featured three days of book excerpts, and more. In the interest of fairness and balance shouldn’t ‘Framing’ be featured in at least one substantive article?
I do applaud the Inquirer‘s publication of the April 2 editorial by author Dave Lindorff titled “The Mumia Exception” that criticized the March 27 court decision denying Abu-Jamal a new guilt-phase trial. Please extend this same fairness to coverage of Framing.
To recap, when Murdered By Mumia was released in December, the book received major coverage both locally and nationally. Almost uniformly, the coverage was uncritical and the book’s critics were ignored. When The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal was released in May, it was virtually ignored. Can the bias be more obvious?
On Monday, J. Patrick O’Connor kicked off his East Coast book tour with an appearance on the Washington DC, Pacifica Radio show Jazz and Justice and a book-signing event at Baruch College in New York City. Tuesday night, he is appearing at The Brecht Forum alongside Pam and Ramona Africa. Wednesday, he comes to Philadelphia for an event organized by Journalists for Mumia. The San Francisco Bay Area is now preparing for a similar tour this Fall.
The question now before us is whether or not the mainstream media can continue their shameful behavior in reporting on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A century ago, the journalist and former slave, Frederick Douglass said that “power concedes nothing”. Therefore, it is up to us to confront the mainstream media and demand that they stop ignoring this important new book. When we flexed our power last December, and wrote NBC’s Today Show to ensure fairness, we were rewarded with a stunning victory. Please help today by urging the national media, as well as our local media outlets, to report on this important book.
Hans Bennett is a Philadelphia-based photo-journalist who has been documenting the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners for over five years. Read other articles by Hans, or visit Hans's website.
This article was posted on Thursday, June 26th, 2008 at 5:00am and is filed under Justice.