Apr 1, 2016

Clarifying errors in mainstream media coverage on the Bullock jury trial, especially a major one in NCJ's latest article

I have more than once, publicly and personally, thanked all the media that have covered the Gary Lee Bullock trial because the coverage has been outstanding. During the preliminary hearing, locally, Times-Standard managing editor Kimberly Wear, Lost Coast Outpost's Ryan Burns, and KIEM covered the case. All did an excellent job in reporting.

None of the media has covered the Bullock trial every day. Due to staffing and other news, that is understandable.

The point of this post is not to embarrass anyone but not everyone reads every media source, some people only read the newspaper and watch the news. No one either comments or pays attention to the comment section (except in LOCO) and when a mistake is made in media coverage that is so inaccurate that it can have legal impacts; pointing out in the comment section or in a letter to the editor is pointless.

Regarding the Times-Standard, there have been two different reporters covering the trial. I would have preferred that either Will Houston or Hunter Cresswell  would have covered this trial  because they have experience covering the local courts, their coverage would not have blatant errors and they are humble enough to ask for help from their colleagues. There was an article covered by Steven Moore that had major inaccuracies on two important motions in limine. I saw the article online, it had not been in print. I emailed Ms. Wear and TS assistant managing editor Marc Valles to take care of this privately. They corrected the errors online and the print version was different.  TS is a daily newspaper and I had time to contact the editors, who are responsive to emails and phone calls.

I have covered the Bullock trial and a lot of court news for North Coast News. They also have other reporters that have covered court cases and done a great job. They have a lot of correct and background information from my coverage in the Bullock case. I would have preferred Cymphanie Sherman or Evan Schreiber have covered this trial because they are meticulous reporters. Jeremy Chen who is covering this trial, when he can, has done a  decent job. The live coverage on TV is inaccurate when it is stated repeatedly that  "Bullock has entered a plea of not guilty by insanity." From previous coverage, they have information that there has  been a dual plea of not guilty and not guilty by insanity. That is not a small typo or omission, it is a significant fact in this case.

The biggest error in Bullock trial coverage has been made by Thad Greenson in the North Coast Journal, which could have been avoided, simply by a small addition stating, "to my knowledge". Thad has covered courts before. The M'Naghten rule and it applying to this case has been covered more than once on my blog in the last year, Times-Standard did an article a couple months ago. The information in the NCJ article is not new. The recent article by Thad  it highlights some valid points and challenges about the insanity defense, however it incorrectly states that the Bullock jury is unaware that the trial is bifurcated. Thad only covered Mr. Isaac's opening statement. He has not been in court on any other day for this case. Therefore, he is unaware that from the beginning of jury selection, the jurors were made aware that there would be two phases to this trial. They are very aware that if a guilty verdict is reached in the first phase, then there will phase two to determine whether not guilty by insanity can be proved by the defense. Due to the gag order, no one from the courts can correct or talk about this error.

California court ruless do not allow recorders, laptops and special permission is given, sometimes, for TV cameras to take photographs or briefly record court proceedings. Reporting on court cases requires good note taking, old fashioned skill. It helps to have a knowledge on the law but basic reporting skills are a must. Some reporters are better at covering courts just because they are excellent journalists, in general.

The local mainstream media has awakened to providing more court coverage recently, seeing the success of my blog. I would urge the people in charge to consider who they send to cover court cases.

I waited a couple of days to do this post and finally chose to put it on the blog because several readers contacted me about these errors. They wanted timely correction and this issue raised.

The error in NCJ is urgent because the case is at the stage where closing arguments are expected to start in Phase 1 of the Bullock trial on Monday.

It is not the first time significant errors have been made in the mainstream media and it happens in other news, not just court cases, on a frequent basis. This is not about perfection, it is about accurately representing if you have covered something in its entirety and being cognizant that especially in legal cases, misinformation has consequences.

People have choices today where they get their news, advertisers also have choices today, chose carefully.

Locally, people talk a lot about supporting local businesses. They need to put their money where their mouth is and support smaller, independent media like Mad River Union, KHSU, and myself.  With a smaller staff, in some cases, unpaid, we provide better local news coverage and develop our own articles and story leads.


"Mainstream media" has changed, it can no longer be considered the standard for where you should rely on information or accurate, complete information.


2 comments:

  1. Ryan Burns reporting on the Bullock trial has been exceptional in my opinion. He's a very gifted writer.

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    1. I absolutely agree with your opinion about Ryan Burns and not just on the Bullock case. As far coverage on this case which has been both the preliminary and trial, exceptional applies to Kimberly Wear, Ryan Burns, Sierra Jenkins and Paul Mann as well.

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