Tags ››› NPR
  • Mainstream Outlets Have Not Covered A Major Nationwide Prison Strike

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    On September 9, inmates at prisons in at least 12 states began work stoppages and other protest actions to draw attention to unfair labor practices and living conditions in U.S. prisons. The actions have reportedly continued on a rolling basis in many prisons across the country for the last month, yet a Media Matters analysis found virtual media silence on the story.

    According to inmate organizers at the Holman Prison in Alabama, who have been leading prison labor actions since 2012 as the Free Alabama Movement, inmates in prisons across the country launched strikes on September 9. The strikes, which were primarily work stoppages but also included hunger striking and other forms of peaceful protest, began on the anniversary of the deadly 1971 Attica prison uprising, which began as a means to call attention to prison conditions. The actions were primarily meant to protest extremely low-wage or forced labor in prisons, though inmate organizers in some facilities chose to focus their actions on living conditions and overcrowding instead of or in addition to labor practices.

    Estimates from the organizers and allied groups suggest that more than 24,000 inmates in at least 12 states participated in strikes that day. Tracking mechanisms indicate that inmates in several prisons are still continuing acts of protest on a rolling basis, though activity is thought to be “apparently winding down.” These numbers -- if corroborated -- would make the September 9 actions the largest prison strike in U.S. history.

    Though it is difficult to know for sure, actions in some facilities appear to be getting results. In Alabama, the epicenter of strike organizing, guards joined the effort, launching an informal labor strike to highlight prison overcrowding -- conditions that make prisons less safe for both inmates and guards. And the U.S. Department of Justice launched a “possibly unprecedented” statewide investigation into conditions in Alabama prisons last week.

    Yet a search of Nexis transcripts from the major news networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- and National Public Radio for the last month has come up almost completely empty on coverage of the strikes, aside from a single 20-second mention during a run-through of headlines on NBC’s Today and a three-and-a-half-minute NPR Weekend Edition interview with the Marshall Project’s Beth Schwartzapfel.

    Traditional print media outlets did not appear to fare much better, according to a search of the same parameters; Media Matters found one article at The Wall Street Journal reporting on the initial days of the strikes.

    Media Matters found no mentions of prison strikes across the major media outlets available in Nexis from September 8 -- the day before the strikes began -- through October 10. Most coverage seemed to come from new media outlets, like BuzzFeed and Vice News, or left-leaning, sometimes niche outlets like The Marshall Project, Mother Jones, Democracy Now!, and The Intercept. Readers who do not rely on these specific types of sources for their news, instead turning to evening broadcasts or major print outlets like The New York Times, may not know the strikes happened at all.

    Media scholar and MIT professor Ethan Zuckerman explained why coverage of the strikes may be so difficult to find in a Medium post on September 10. Zuckerman, who studies “the distribution of attention in mainstream and new media” and how activists can leverage media coverage, wrote:

    It’s hard to tell what’s going on inside US prisons. While prisoners can reach out to reporters using the same channels they can use to contact friends or family members, journalists have very limited rights of access to prisons, and it would be challenging for an intrepid reporter to identify and contact inmates in prisons across a state, for instance, to determine where protests took place. Wardens have a great deal of discretion about answering reporters’ inquiries and can choose not to comment citing security concerns. Reporters who want to know what’s going on inside a prison sometimes resort to extraordinary measures, like becoming a prison guard to gain access. (Shane Bauer’s article on private prison company CCA is excellent, but the technique he used was not a new one — Ted Conover’s 2000 book Newjack is a masterpiece of the genre.)

    Because it’s so hard to report from prison — and, frankly, because news consumers haven’t demonstrated much demand for stories about prison conditions — very few media outlets have dedicated prison reporters. One expert estimates that there are fewer than half a dozen dedicated prisons reporters across the US, an insane number given that 2.4m Americans are incarcerated, roughly 1% of the nation’s population.

    Coverage of the prison strikes from progressive outlets often acknowledges the problems of reporting accurately on events occurring in prisons as well; many that cited any data on the strikes noted that the numbers were estimates provided by organizers. As Azzurra Crispino from the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (an activist group helping to coordinate inmate organizing efforts) explained in an interview with WNYC’s On The Media, some reporters are trying to learn more: “It is the case that we have not seen as much media coverage as we would like, but I am getting a lot of emails and phone calls from journalists who are telling me, ‘I’m not seeing this on the mainstream media, but it’s all over my Facebook and my Twitter feed.’” Crispino also noted that violent riots tend to garner more media attention than the peaceful protests and strikes happening in most facilities. “I would ask the mainstream media: To what extent are you complicit in future violence, if it were to arise, if the message you are sending to prisoners is: if nobody dies, we’re not going to cover it?” she said.

    Another factor in the halted information flow is that state officials often declined to comment or offered competing narratives about what took place in individual facilities when reporters reached out. Officials in at least two states where inmates have recorded strike activity have publicly denied that any work stoppages occurred, and at least one inmate organizer says he is facing what The Intercept called “disciplinary action” for participating in a radio interview about the strikes.

    MIT’s Zuckerman argued that the September strikes are an example of a situation “in which readers can have power by calling attention to events in the world,” and that reader demand could spur “large media organizations” to leverage their resources and existing contacts “to provide a more detailed view of events.” He concluded:

    Perhaps the call for the nation’s largest prison strike has failed. Or perhaps we’re seeing the beginnings of a long action that will change incarceration as we know it. It’s a problem that we don’t — and can’t — know. A nation that imprisons 1% of its population has an obligation to know what’s happening to those 2.4 million people, and right now, we don’t know.


    Media Matters searched Nexis for any mentions or variations of the term “prison” or “inmate” within 20 words of the term “strike” or “protest” from September 8, 2016, to October 10, 2016. The search included all available news transcripts for CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and National Public Radio; articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today; and abstracts in The Wall Street JournalWall Street Journal results were also checked in Factiva. 

    Image at top from Flickr user Alicia, using a Creative Commons license. 

  • The Guide To Donald Trump's War On The Press (So Far)


    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has an extensive history of attacking the media, and his campaign and supporters have joined in the fight throughout the election. The nominee, his surrogates, and his supporters have called media outlets and reporters across the spectrum “dishonest,” “neurotic,” “dumb,” and a “waste of time,” and until recently, the campaign had a media blacklist of outlets that weren’t allowed into campaign events.

  • Media Shouldn’t Fall For Trump’s Spin That He Can Fix Tax Laws

    Trump’s Damage Control After NY Times Tax Bombshell At Odds With His Own Tax Plan That Favors His Own Businesses 

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Following The New York Times’ report that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump may have been able to avoid federal income taxes for 18 years after declaring a $916 million loss in 1995 as his businesses collapsed, some pundits are adopting the Trump campaign’s spin that the story proves that Trump “knows the tax code far better than anyone … and he is the only one that knows how to fix it.” In fact, Trump’s tax plan “doesn’t just preserve those breaks, it piles on new ones for real estate developers like Mr. Trump himself,” according to The Washington Post. The proposal would deliver a massive tax cut to Trump’s own businesses while providing a multi-trillion dollar tax cut to the wealthiest Americans. 

  • Journalists Call On Debate Moderators To Fact-Check Candidates

    Journalists: Debate Moderators Should “Be Well-Prepared Enough To Assert The Truth In Real Time”

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Prior to the first presidential debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, journalists are advising the debate moderators to “Be well-prepared enough to assert the truth in real time,” and arguing that a moderator should not “abdicate” their “role as a truth-seeker and a journalist” because moderators “play a constructive and vital role” in presidential debates.

  • Media Response To Latest Analysis Of Trump’s Tax Plan: It “Screws The Middle Class”

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump updated his tax reform plan in a September 15 speech, just over a month after his initial August 9 revision of the plan. The conservative-leaning Tax Foundation has now scored Trump’s latest tax plan and found it would still cost trillions of dollars in lost tax revenue and would overwhelmingly benefit higher-income earners. Mainstream media are using these findings to push back on Trump’s claims that he supports the middle class and to shine a spotlight on the contradicting statements about the economy his campaign has made.

  • Four Reasons Trump’s Parental Leave And Child Care Plan Doesn’t Add Up


    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has announced that he will unveil a plan for parental leave and child care affordability, which he claims he would pay for by ending unemployment insurance fraud. The plan would include six weeks of maternity leave, tax deductions for child care, and family savings accounts. Journalists reporting on the plan should know that it does not actually include paid family and paternity leave, it favors the wealthy, it does not include sufficient funding, and it contradicts his few previous statements on child care.

  • Media Reactions To Trump’s Immigration Speech: Same Extremist Trump

    Trump Doubled Down On His Anti-Immigrant Policies

    ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    After Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gave a long-awaited speech promising to solidify his stance on immigration, media figures described Trump’s speech as a “repackaged version of Trump's standard stump lines,” and “vintage Trump,” highlighting his reiteration of his previously-detailed extreme policies.

  • Trump Invokes Right-Wing Media's Voter Fraud Myth To Support Voter ID Laws

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Echoing a right-wing media myth, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump claimed recent court rulings striking down voter restrictions would cause the presidential election to be “rigged” because voter ID laws prevent people committing in-person voter fraud by not allowing them to keep “voting and voting and voting." In reality, in-person voter fraud is extremely rare and voter ID laws disproportionately harm minority voters.

  • A Year After Marriage Equality, It's Time For Media To Stop Giving Anti-LGBT Liars A Pass

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    In the year since the Supreme Court struck down state-level same-sex marriage bans, anti-gay extremists have continued to peddle misinformation about LGBT equality in the media. After more than 12 years of pushing lies and wildly inaccurate predictions about the consequences of marriage equality, it’s time for the media to stop letting anti-gay activists comment on LGBT rights without disclosing their proven track record of dishonest extremism.

    It’s been a year since the Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges decision which found state-level same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. In the decade leading up to the decision, anti-LGBT extremists and hate group leaders peddled specious talking points about the consequences of “redefining traditional marriage.” In media appearances, these figures predicted that allowing same-sex couples to marry would cause a “slippery slope” to legalized bestiality, incest, and pedophilia; pushed the myth that gay men are more likely to engage in pedophilia than straight men; and hyped claims that pastors and churches were in danger of being forced to perform same-sex marriages.

    Several of these groups were so deceptive that in 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), designated them anti-LGBT “hate groups” for “propagating known falsehoods” and pushing “demonizing propaganda.” One of these groups was the Family Research Council (FRC), whose officials have accused gay people of trying to "recruit" children into homosexuality and endorsed a Uganda law that would have imposed the death penalty for engaging in gay sex.

    For years, major cable news networks have hosted FRC representatives to comment on LGBT equality without identifying FRC as a hate group. Despite the efforts of progressive Christians to stop outlets from letting FRC representatives conflate their extremism with mainstream Christianity, the group continues to have a significant media presence. Since last June’s Obergefell decision, mainstream media outlets have continued to call on FRC to discuss LGBT rights, including:

    • The New York Times, NPR, and USA Today all cited FRC’s commentary on the Obergefell marriage equality decision without noting the group’s history of hate.
    • ABC's This Week invited FRC's Ken Blackwell -- who previously blamed same-sex marriage for a mass murder -- to discuss the court's decision.  
    • NPR featured FRC’s Senior Fellow for Policy Studies Peter Sprigg -- who spent 10 years as a "professional actor" before joining FRC -- to debate same-sex parenting.
    • FRC’s President Tony Perkins appeared on MSNBC to discuss meeting with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump assemble an “Evangelical executive advisory board,” featuring anti-LGBT extremists.

    In the past year, the media have given other anti-LGBT hate groups similar passes. In September, mainstream news outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters failed to identify Liberty Counsel, the anti-LGBT hate group representing Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, instead calling it merely a “Christian” or “conservative” organization. In April, major news outlets largely failed to identify the American Family Association (AFA) -- the group organizing a boycott of Target over its transgender-inclusive restroom policy -- as an anti-LGBT hate group.

    The few instances when mainstream media like The Associated Press and CBS News’ Bob Schieffer did properly identify hate group leaders, anti-gay conservatives were predictably outraged. Right-wing anger at journalists who expose anti-LGBT extremism illustrates why it’s so vital to disclose when sources or commentators represent hate groups. The public has a right to know that the same groups with a track record of fearmongering about children’s safety to oppose marriage equality are now those peddling the anti-LGBT movement’s new favorite myth that LGBT nondiscrimination protections endanger the safety of women and children in bathrooms.

    A year after Obergefell, it’s time for the media to stop letting the same extremists use media appearances to float new lies and recycle mythical talking points to oppose LGBT equality. Outlets seeking to provide balanced coverage of LGBT rights ought to find commentators who don’t have a decade-long track record of spreading hateful lies about LGBT people. 

  • Media Shouldn't Forget That The SCOTUS Tie On Immigration Affects Real People

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    While reporting on the Supreme Court deadlock on President Obama’s executive action on immigration, media should make note of its negative impact on millions of workers and families, as Univision and NPR have done in their past reporting on the case.

    On June 23, a 4-4 Supreme Court split affirmed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit's decision to block implementation of the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). This exercise of “prosecutorial discretion” would have given temporary relief from deportation to close to 3.7 million people, bringing the undocumented parents of American citizens or permanent residents out of the shadows and making them eligible for work authorization. The decision also affects an expansion of President Obama’s 2012 executive action Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

    According to immigration attorney and CNN opinion columnist David Leopold, who speculated about the outcome of the case back in April, the tie could lead to “three levels of profound chaos”:

    A 4–4 split in U.S. v Texas, for example, would result in three levels of profound chaos ensuing. A 4–4 split on the Supreme Court would: provide a green light to Republican-controlled states — not the federal government — to determine the nation’s immigration enforcement policy — contradicting the Court’s major precedent in the process; open the door to a myriad of politically-charged lawsuits that states would be newly empowered to bring against sitting presidents; and raise questions about whether the injunction placed on the deportation deferral guidance, known as DAPA and DACA+, should continue to apply across country, ultimately leading to a patchwork of confusing immigration enforcement regimes in different states and regions of the U.S.

    The impacts, however, are also deeply personal to immigrant families, particularly to the Latino community. A Univision segment on June 15’s Univision's Noticiero Univision Edición Nocturna highlighted the stories of some of those who benefited under the 2012 DACA executive action and explained that over 3.5 million people could be negatively impacted if the president’s 2014 executive action failed at the Supreme Court:

    The American Immigration Council explained in April that a Supreme Court tie would be harmful to the economy, as individuals who would have benefited from the programs would no longer be able to contribute by earning “an additional $7.1 billion ... in income” or by generating additional tax revenue.

    Most importantly, media should contextualize the case by reporting that the success of this executive action would have kept families together, protecting children whose parents are at risk of deportation from psychological harm, an issue exemplified in a June 22 NPR report:

    KELLY MCEVERS (HOST): For many families, there is a lot riding on a case that's now before the Supreme Court. It's about President Obama's executive order known as Deferred Actions for Parents of Americans. It could shield millions of people who are here illegally from deportation. There's growing research that shows when a parent is arrested by immigration authorities, it can have a big impact on a child's mental and physical health. Adrian Florido of Code Switch brings us one family's story.

    ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: The Diaz family lives in a squat, pink apartment building in Miami's Little Havana. Early one morning three years ago, Dad, Jose, was arrested just as he left for work. When Mom, Marcela, and her 8-year-old son, Bryan, went outside, they saw Jose's truck idling in the driveway, its door open. A white van with tinted windows was blocking its exit, and they realized Jose was inside. As the school bus pulled up, Bryan started crying.


    WENDY CERVANTES: Inability to sleep at night, a lot of anxiousness, behavioral problems, low academic performance.

    FLORIDO: This is Wendy Cervantes of the children's advocacy group First Focus.

    CERVANTES: But it's also - obviously the mental health impact becomes even greater when a child actually witnesses a parent being arrested or loses a parent as a result of deportation or detention.

    FLORIDO: Lili Farhang directs Oakland-based Human Impact Partners, which has tried to quantify the effects. Her group estimates that in 2012, for example, up to 100,000 kids had shown signs of withdrawal after a parent's detention or deportation. She says this is only a fraction of the children at risk.

    LILI FARHANG: You have 4 million kids, you know, who can face having a parent be deported and you have to wonder what are the long-term effects for this population of children?