Hochul Admits She Makes Policy Off Sensational Headlines

Gov. Kathy Hochul stated that a desire to avoid sensational newspaper headlines is a driving factor in her crusade to remove the “least restrictive means” standard that judges use when making bail decisions.

Fact Check: Fearmongering

The Briefing

Gov. Kathy Hochul made a shameful admission when announcing changes to New York’s bail laws as part of her “conceptual budget agreement,” stating that a desire to avoid sensational newspaper headlines is a driving factor in her crusade to remove the “least restrictive means” standard that judges use when making bail decisions. Hochul’s decision to pacify cynical media outlets that actively lie about bail reform and undermine support for a successful policy instead of her constituents is another example of the governor choosing politics and optics over the lives of New Yorkers. Her proposal is radical: it does away with a standard that has existed for decades in New York law and ensures more New Yorkers will suffer the dehumanizing and deadly impact of pretrial jailing.

Hochul's proposal is dangerous

The governor is using political capital on a proposal that is dangerous and makes no sense. The reasoning behind the proposal – the false claims that judges are confused and an “inconsistency” exists within the law – has been debunked by data, judges, and research experts. Hochul’s plan opens the door to mass pretrial caging, which does and will continue to disproportionately affect Black and brown New Yorkers. The proposal comes amid a humanitarian crisis and record deaths for people jailed on Rikers Island. Hochul’s proposal is all the more cruel and untenable as the governor admits she is making policy off sensationalized headlines, and not the health and safety of New Yorkers.

Media misinformation is eroding public support for bail reform

As covered on this site for years, the media plays a massive role in spreading lies about – and undermining support for – bail reform. This is an empirical fact, according to multiple studies that show how media coverage and framing of bail reform in New York has played a key role in undermining support for bail reform. Sensationalized stories, disproportionate media coverage, and unchecked repetition of lies from elected officials all combine to mislead the public about the ongoing success of bail reform. 

Examples abound. For months, media organizations have failed to push back on Hochul’s lies about bail reform. Columnists and editorial boards admit they know bail reform has nothing to do with increases in crime, yet advocate for regressive rollbacks because of optics. A range of outlets, from legacy brands to to right-wing inflammatory tabloids to local news organizations routinely lie, fearmonger and mislead the public about bail reform. In the case of the New York Post, which Hochul clearly references in her comments, the outlet’s position on bail reform is more accurately described as a disinformation campaign.

Hochul’s statements reveal she is playing directly into the Post’s hands – governing to prevent sensational headlines instead of governing to protect the lives of New Yorkers.

Hochul is fighting a losing battle

Hochul and her allies should know that this is a battle they will never win. Cynical actors who desire a world with more Black and brown New Yorkers in jail will always find ways to plant misleading, sensational and racist stories that outlets like the Post will be happy to print. 

Opponents of bail reform will never find a compromise they approve of until bail reform as we know it does not exist. They are still fighting for changes to the law after two sets of rollbacks. Another rollback will not change their mind. Hochul’s weak-willed justification of her proposal will not insulate her for long. Politicians win when they stand behind a wildly successful public policy that keeps us safe and against misinformation campaigns from people who want to see more of the most vulnerable people in our society in jail. 

Legislators have the opportunity to reject Hochul’s feeble argument and opt for a budget that actually protects public safety, through investments in communities, health and economic opportunity.

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