25. ABC Broadcasts Slanted Report on Mumia Abu-Jamal

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Sources: REFUSE AND RESIST, Title: “A Case Study in Irresponsible Journalism,” http://www.walrus.com/~resist/mumia/061881kgov.html, Authors: C. Clark Kissinger and Leonard Weinglass; REVOLUTIONARY WORKER, Title: “KGO-TV Report: A Case Study in Irresponsible Journalism,” Date: June 28, 1998, Authors: C. Clark Kissinger and Leonard Weinglass

SSU Censored Researchers: Tom Ladegaard, Jason Sanders, and Corrie Robb
SSU Faculty Evaluator: Elizabeth Martinez

On May 7 and 8, 1998, KGO-TV, an ABC affiliate in San Francisco, broadcast a two-part series attacking the international movement to prevent the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia, a black activist, has been on death row in the state of Pennsylvania for 16 years for the killing of a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. A large international movement has been active in demanding a retrial of his case that would include evidence not covered in his first trial.

KGO claimed to do an objective review of the case. KGO staff interviewed supporters of Mumia and many people from the other side. The final broadcast presented a very one-sided story, however, claiming that the evidence indeed showed that Mumia was guilty, and that four eyewitnesses saw the shooting. Only four eyewitnesses originally testified in the trial and their stories were not in complete agreement, but an additional six witnesses were added in the 1995-96-97 hearings for a new trial. Four of the new witnesses claimed that they saw another man running away from the scene at the time of the shooting (Mumia was shot by the police officer and was arrested on the scene). Additionally, the slain officer was found with a driver’s license of another person in his possession. KGO did not report about the third person running away, nor about the driver’s license.

KGO also asserted that, “In fact, there was extensive ballistics testimony, and although the bullets were mangled, tests showed them to be .38 caliber, with marking consistent with Jamal’s gun.” Weinglass and Kissinger report, however, that the medical examiner who removed the bullet from the officer’s body reported it to be a .44 caliber slug. Furthermore, Mumia was never tested for nitrate residues to prove that he had recently fired a gun, nor was his gun tested to see if it had been recently fired. None of these challenging facts were presented by KGO in their broadcast.

KGO included an interview with the widow of the slain police officer. She told an emotional story about how, during the trial, when her husband’s uniform was shown as evidence, Mumia turned around to her and smiled. The problem with this story is that, according to the [official] transcript, Mumia was absent from the courtroom on the day the shirt was displayed, say the authors.

The authors also claim that all of the above evidence and much more was given to KGO and that they have a tape of the KGO interview. KGO had every reason to know that much of the material they were presenting as fact was contested by knowledgeable parties to the case. Yet they failed to present the counter-arguments, thereby making Mumia look guilty and discrediting activists worldwide who have been calling for a retrial of the case.

UPDATE BY AUTHOR CLARK KISSINGER: “We chose to expose the KGO-TV series on Mumia Abu-Jamal because we suspected that it was a pilot for an attack by the national network. In June the Fraternal Order of Police raised the money to place a full-page ad in The New York Times calling for Jamal’s execution. On December 9, ABC’s news magazine program 20/20 ran a half-hour segment on Jamal, which repeated most of the outrageous claims in the KGO report. Once again fresh interviews were done with the prosecutor and the widow of the slain police officer, but Jamal was not allowed to speak.

“ABC’s excuse for not interviewing Jamal was a new state prison regulation prohibiting recorded interviews with any prisoners. When Jamal’s challenge to this regulation was accepted by the Federal District Court in Pittsburgh on December 7, ABC rushed to air the material they had on December 9 before a federal court could make Jamal available. The segment was hosted by White House correspondent Sam Donaldson.

“ABC’s attitude was expressed well in a letter to prison authorities suggesting that they should be allowed to interview Jamal because they were going to set the record straight and counteract an alleged excess of pro-Jamal material in the media. The letter went on to state: ‘We are currently working in conjunction with Maureen Faulkner and the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of the Police.’ For further information on the case and the media controversy, see http://www.calyx.com/refuse.’