The New York Times Contributes to Misinformation Through Irresponsible Framing

The New York Times ran a story with the headline, “Adams Blames Bail Law After Release of Teen Charged in Officer Shooting." The article later revealed that Eric Adams’s claim and position were not based in fact.

Fact Check: Misleading

The Briefing

The New York Times ran a story with the headline, “Adams Blames Bail Law After Release of Teen Charged in Officer Shooting,” despite the article later revealing that Eric Adams’s claim was not based on fact. While headlines are not the whole story, they are also all most people ever read of any particular article. This is especially true when the paper, as here, keeps the text of its articles behind a paywall. The co-author also chose this headline as the framing of a tweet to promote the story.

It is not until eight paragraphs in that the authors finally acknowledge that bail reform is not actually implicated in this case. Furthermore, the article states, “Prosecutors were free to ask that [the teen] be detained, and the judge hearing the case, Denis Boyle, could have agreed.” Prosecutors did ask for the boy to be detained, and a judge did detain him—and on incredibly high bail. Pre-trial detention is initiated when bail is set and is not necessarily indefinite. The teen was, in fact, detained; he was incarcerated for over a week while waiting for his family to post bond.

Bottom Line

Bail reform had nothing whatsoever to do with this case, but millions who saw the headline likely took away the opposite. More on the teenagers and misinformation on his case in this related Briefing.

Deeper Dive

Some have defended the accuracy of the Times headline and the reporting, arguing that, technically, the headline didn’t say “bail reform,” but referred to the fact that New York’s bail law, as before bail reform, rightfully has never allowed judges to try to predict future dangerousness when deciding whether to detain someone charged with a violent felony like the teenager in this case (more on the racist and error-ridden folly of the “dangerousness” standard below).  

Yet here is the reality: Most people who read the headline would not know the ins and outs of the history of bail law in New York, and so they would assume “bail law” refers to “bail reform,” particularly given the current climate of fearmongering and sensationalism. This is sleight-of-hand by the NYC Mayor Eric Adams. 

The innovation of bail reform in NY is how it reduces the number of people caged on unaffordable bail, without replacing cash bail with more expansive and dangerous judicial power to detain. What’s remarkable is how successful bail reform has been for public safety w/o “dangerousness.” Close to 200,000 people have been free statewide who otherwise would have faced the prospect of bail. 97.2% of people have NOT been rearrested for violent felonies. 99% have NOT been rearrested for crimes involving a gun.

In short, NYC mayor’s attack on the lack of “dangerousness” in New York’s bail law, is an attack on bail reform and the progress NY has made since.

Context

“Dangerousness” has never been a standard for setting bail in New York, and the state definitively declined to adopt it in the 1970s—and for good reason. Allowing a judge’s (or algorithm’s) prediction of “dangerousness” to serve as a basis for holding someone in jail while they are presumed innocent has clearly yielded racist results based on data from jurisdictions that allow this practice. Further, data shows no connection between bail reform and crime. For instance, 98% of people who are free pre-trial are not arrested for any violent felony charge. Even fewer are rearrested for crimes that involve any gun. As such, a determination of “dangerousness” would serve no legitimate public safety purpose, but would only increase the number of Black and brown New Yorkers who are jailed while presumed innocent.

Story Link

NYT: Adams Blames Bail Law After Release of Teen Charged in Officer Shooting.

This opinion piece by Ginia Bellafonte also contained a critical error. As identified by journalist Tana Ganeva, the claim that 2021 saw a 23% increase in shootings over 2020 was a misrepresentation of the NYPD’s own data. 

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