CBS News Story Lies To Readers About Bail Reform, Gun Violence

In the most recent example of reckless criminal justice reporting, a CBS News article falsely linked a Manhattan shooting with bail reform and Governor Hochul’s efforts to rollback the “least restrictive means” standard.

Fact Check: False

The Briefing

In the most recent example of reckless criminal justice reporting, a CBS News article falsely linked a Manhattan shooting with bail reform and Governor Hochul’s efforts to rollback the “least restrictive means” standard. Though a police official told reporters that bail was set and paid in the underlying case, meaning the case has nothing to do with bail reform, the article lied to readers by linking an instance of gun violence with bail reform and editorializing that the case will “stoke debate” in Albany.

Bail reform has nothing to do with this case

This case has nothing to do with bail reform. The police officer quoted in the article states clearly that the person involved with this case was “out on bail,” meaning bail was set and paid. A judge had the statutory ability to set bail on the underlying case, a violent felony, and did so. Bail reform only affected some misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.

Governor Hochul’s regressive proposal to eliminate the “least restrictive means” standard has nothing to do with the facts of this case, and the article’s author is misleading readers by falsely linking a Manhattan shooting with unrelated budget negotiations in Albany.  Hochul wants to remove the “least restrictive means” standard that judges use when making decisions in bail-eligible cases. Hochul’s proposal is irrelevant because the judge chose to set bail on the person in this case. That person gained their liberty by paying for it, not because of anything to do with bail reform.

Irresponsible news coverage undermines support for a successful policy

The CBS News story is a shining example of bad media practices when reporting on bail reform. First, the headline misleads readers by falsely linking gun violence and bail reform. As stated above, Hochul’s proposal to remove the least restrictive means standard and ongoing budget negotiations have nothing to do with this case. Moreover, there is no connection between bail reform and increases in crime. 

Instead, bail reform actually protects public safety. A report released this week showed that New York’s bail reform laws reduced the likelihood that someone would be arrested again.

“Fundamentally, we found that eliminating bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies reduced recidivism in New York City, while there was no clear effect in either direction for cases remaining bail eligible,” said Michael Rempel, director of John Jay College’s Data Collaborative for Justice.

The CBS News article goes on to quote police and Hochul, without fact-checking police statements or highlighting any of the voices pushing back on Hochul’s proposal. 

The author then goes on to editorialize that the case “is sure to stoke debate about public safety in Albany.” This is a dangerous and alarmingly obtuse statement. News stories like this one play a massive role in undermining public support for bail reform and misleading New Yorkers about bail reform and crime. Media coverage of bail reform has outpaced the increases in crime in New York City, and coverage of bail reform in the media spikes leading up to elections and rollbacks. That cycle is playing out again. If CBS News, in an article that is ostensibly a news article, states that a sensationalized instance of crime will spark a debate about public safety, then that prediction is likely to come true, even though the case has nothing to do with bail reform. 

The stakes are high. Irresponsible and reckless reporting on these issues leads to public support for damaging policy decisions. If Hochul’s proposal is approved, thousands of Black and brown New Yorkers will be subject to deadly and dehumanizing pretrial conditions. New Yorkers will not be any safer, because pretrial detention devastates lives and has a criminogenic effect.

Instead of accepting and legitimizing carceral policies as the only way to prevent crime, CBS News and other media outlets would do well to report on solutions that actually work – affordable housing, a living wage, health care, re-entry services and community-based violence intervention programs.

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