New York Media Calls 120 People Gang Members Because the Police Said So

Human Rights

On the morning of April 27, in concert with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the BATF, the NYPD conducted what authorities described as a “gang raid” on the Eastchester Gardens and Edenwald House housing projects in the Bronx, arresting roughly 100 people on a series of charges. The New York media, apparently tipped off ahead of time and present with cameras ready for the wholly-pointless-except-for-police-PR perp walk, jumped into action—trying and convicting the suspects as gang members solely on the say-so of the NYPD and federal officials.

The Daily News (4/28/16) kicked it off with the most salacious and prejudicial headlines:

“Eighty-seven gang members"—every one of them “responsible” for “murders and drug dealing”—no evidence necessary.

No “allegedly,” no quotes around the claims, no question at all that these people—whose faces are forever plastered online as murderers and drug dealers—could possibly be innocent of the crimes in question. The Daily News, based solely on the word of federal prosecutors, left no doubt in the reader’s mind that these people were guilty.

The piece  came with an interactive map of “The Gangs of NYC and How Close You Live to Them,” along with a gallery with more than 60 photos of arrested suspects—described in an introduction as “more than 120 Bronx gang members, responsible for five murders.” Individual pictures were captioned with seemingly random rundowns of the heinous crimes alleged — regardless of whether the particular people pictured were suspected or charged, much less found guilty, of being involved with them. (Do I need to point out that the NYPD has been known to sometimes arrest the wrong people?)

The language used by the Daily News reads like the script for a bad Charles Bronson movie. The accused were described, without qualification, as “120 violent hoodlums” and “unrepentant gangbangers,” although the reporting presented no evidence to this effect.

Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, a rich, politically connected white man, was given radically different treatment by the Daily News the very next day. Despite having admitted to a judge that he had molested several children, the Daily News referred to Hastert’s crimes as “alleged”: 

Why is the latter case “alleged” and the former not? One could venture a guess based on the class and race status of the accused, but what’s clear is that the putative “gang members” didn’t stand a chance. The media mob’s mind was made up:

As FAIR has noted before, the headline matters just as much, if not more, than the story’s text. Only 40 percent of Americans read past the headlines, meaning some 60 percent of the audience got their news about these raids by skimming these prejudicial thumbnails. And on issues like crime, which are plagued by stereotypes and racial assumptions, the media verdict is leveled against predominantly African-American suspects without question.

The New York Times (4/28/16) went with a more nuanced framing, “Sweep in Bronx Tackles Decade of Gang Chaos,”  but its coverage still recounted the narrative of the police, federal officials and the statements of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. The Times does refer to “charges against 120 people accused of being members of two gangs,” but the paper did not interview any of the lawyers, representatives or families of the accused, or any police-accountability activists. That this raid was a uniform victory against crime was taken for granted, the details to be sorted out later.

Yahoo News (4/27/16) republished a Vibe magazine article (which probably explains why it was in their “Music” section) that, like the Daily News, tried and convicted the accused for being in a gang and murdering people without a shred of evidence or an ounce of skepticism. 

The media efforts behind the high-profile, multi-agency raids were as coordinated as the raids themselves. Photographers were pre-positioned to take pictures, press releases ready to be disseminated upon request, aerial footage available to upload to YouTube and big scary war maps drawn up for presentation at the corollary press conference.

The “bad guys” get theirs: A gang is “swept up,” like trash, and the authorities—including the increasingly scrutinized Homeland Security Investigations (also known as “Immigration” or ICE)—justify their ever-expanding budgets, all without a hint of uncertainty from the press. Federal authorities and the NYPD already have billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of employees at their disposal; they don’t really need the media as well.

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