Protests fill the streets around my office in Atlanta where I am a practicing criminal defense attorney who handles mostly federal cases. While protestors are raising a much larger issue, I have my own protest: the loss of objective journalism in federal criminal cases when “reporters” merely parrot back whatever “press release” is issued by some prosecutor’s media person.
We all know the drill. A federal criminal case is announced after a person is arrested or charges are issued by a grand jury or a criminal complaint is filed. Then, the multi-page press release is issued. The public gets this “news” when a media outlet or a reporter for a more standard publication writes a story about the new case. However, here is where things have changed so drastically over the years.
When I began three and a half decades ago, reporters ALWAYS called the defense attorney for a comment or reaction to the initial story. This was ingrained into all journalists, the need to strive for “objectivity”, and the realization that there are always two sides to every story. Sometimes it made sense to comment, many times the better course was to clam up and let the case work itself through the court system. I remember one case where an egotistic young Public Defender (OK, it was me) told the assembled group of reporters, “We’ll do our talking in court, unlike the prosecutors.” We got our butts kicked anyway.