Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Letter to the Santa Barbara News Press about the "Crime Blotter"

While I compliment the Santa Barbara News Press for running news stories this last year that upset the powers-that-be of this town - in new and different ways - I have a criticism.  And, it is a criticism of many small town newspapers/news-websites I have read over the years.  In fact, I have leveled the same criticism at the Daily Nexus (UCSB's newspaper "of record") before.  A reader in today's "Letter to the Editor" section of the News Press stated my criticism better than I will ever be able to.  I would link to the letter, but the Santa Barbara News Press doesn't make that possible as they don't have a website that is free and open to the non-subscribing public.  So, I'll paraphrase the letter and spread further the good message that 'Crime Blotters' are typically pure pro-police propaganda that masquerades as news.  Much of what's printed in such blurbs is not at all newsworthy.  And, what they don't tell you is that cops decide what to present and they actually write the prose.  And, you guessed it, each and every blotter advances their agenda in the following not so transparent ways:

1.  There's crime in this town (read:  you are under threat).
2.  Cops are nearly always successful at solving those crimes (read:  you need us to deal with this threat).
3.  So called "criminals" are stupid, drunk and/or evil. (read:  they're anything but our relatives, fact, they're really not people at all but rather allegorical figurines representing what we hate about our own human vices and weaknesses)
4.  Cops are ALWAYS portrayed as mild-mannered Ubermenches (or "supermen"), as conceived by Friedrich Nietzche, just doing an honest job and having to put up with a lot of nonsense from the general public.  I won't say the latter part of that isn't generally the case but ALWAYS... really??

Strikingly absent from these blotters are stories about police officers arresting the wrong person, not solving the crime, causing a car accident, discharging their weapon accidentally, tasering someone without good cause, losing their cool (which often goes along with doing or saying something inappropriate or stupid), hitting on an arrestee,  not really doing much of anything...  ok, you get it.  In other words, there is no balance in these in these "news" stories.  They are, in fact, completely one sided and yet are not presented overtly as an advertisement nor propaganda.  They carry with them the weight and credibility of the newspaper or website in/on-which they are are published.  They are, at best, "info-tainment" as a lot of the blurbs are presented with a sense of humor (or at least a cop's sense of humor).  It's really not that funny that someone was either the victim of a crime and/or that someone suffered a humiliating experience of being arrested and taken to jail.  What these propaganda messages cause is a corruption of our justice system.  Because of them, members of the public (e.g., potential jurors) form opinions about the way things are out there based on this form of misinformation.  They are not at all receptive to defendants and their defenses.  The presumption of innocence is hence rendered a joke.  The joke is of course on all of us.  We who live in a society where the odds are stacked heavily against the criminal defendant, where law enforcement enjoys impunity for their misdeeds and an undeserved degree of credibility, will sorely regret it when it is one of us (or our loved one) who is falsely accused of a crime.  Trust me on that.

1 comment:

Jae Brattain said...

Very nice commentary on Santa Barbara crime reporting. The press have a duty to their readers to be fair and honest in their publication.

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