Character Assassination by Local Corporate Media (October 15, 2006)

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by Knight0440Rochester Indymedia.

I first heard about the Reverend Joy Powell when I was helping to organize an October 22nd Anti-Police Brutality Day event. Joy’s name came up because she has done a lot of work in the Rochester community raising awareness about stopping violence by both police and gang members as well as advocating for the victims of this violence.

You can imagine my surprise when I found out that the woman we wanted to have speak against police brutality at our function wouldn’t be able to make it because, well, she was in jail charged with felony assault and burglary.

This of course lead to a frantic search on the internet for the basic questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. My roommate and I came upon a video news clip dated October 11th, 2006 on WROC-TV Channel 8’s website. From the outset you could feel the one-two punch coming. Maureen McGuire set the stage for us. “The news is not good for a well-known Rochester community activist who often takes to the street decrying violence. As News-8 was the first to report the Reverend Joy Powell is now herself charged with a savage attack on her own cousin,” stated McGuire.

So here we had a well-known anti-violence activist, charged with a “savage attack” on a family member, a person we’re lead to believe is very close to Powell, such as a parent or a sibling. In this case, we are told it is her cousin. McGuire, in trying to sound professional and serious, undermined her credibility by reporting a fabrication that WROC decided wasn’t worth checking out. You see the victim wasn’t a cousin of Powell’s but rather a distant acquaintance, according to court testimony by Robin Jackson and Powell’s public defender. But beyond that, the report framed Powell, an anti-violence activist, as a violent person who savagely attacked a close family member. In other words: a hypocrite. But that was the point- the character assassination of the Reverend Joy Powell. An attack that was, using the terms of WROC, equally “savage” with its effect of invalidating all the work that this person had done as well as making her out to be a murderous criminal. And this all occurred before her case was even heard and before she was legally tried. It was the corporate media, not the legal parlance innocent until proven guilty or the courts, which indicted and condemned Powell. But wait! Dave McKinley, of WROC, had more for us.

“She [Jackson] goes onto allege that the woman who often publicly denounces violence,” and McKinley’s tone there became playful if not giddy, again making it clear for the viewer that Powell was a hypocrite and deserved whatever punishment she got, “was quite violent herself when she began to pummel her with a baseball bat!” There was a gleeful upswing in his tone here- it almost sounded as if he was enjoying the reproduction of Powell’s alleged violence.

“Jackson then says Powell sprayed her in the face with mace, blinding her, and with the help of others,” and this was where the camera panned from McKinley, who gracefully and flippantly flicked his hand, to the boarded up window, concluded, “tossed her out this window.”

McKinley continued, “The victim, who took eight stitches to the head, spent two days in intensive care for injuries including a cracked vertebrae and a bruised liver.” Because Powell was being framed as a monster, WROC had to focus on the injuries so that the viewer knew exactly how deadly Powell was with a bat. I’m not saying that Jackson’s injuries aren’t important; they are. But in the context of that news segment they acted to augment the vicious image of Powell that WROC wanted their viewers to understand as truth. That truth being that anyone who would attack a family member, let alone that violently, certainly didn’t deserve any kind of support, personally or politically. He continued, “The Reverend Powell, seen here staging an anti-violence demonstration not even a month ago, faces several charges including felony counts of burglary and assault.”

McKinley finished the piece thusly, “The Reverend Powell, who turned herself into police, was arraigned this morning where a judge set bail at $3,000. Her cousin told police she believes a family squabble, which erupted last week, was at the root of the attack.” Again, WROC reporters perpetuate a lie against Powell to drive home the point that she violently attacked a family member, over nothing more than a simple “squabble.” This could cause some to question Powell’s sanity. Why would anyone beat up a family member over a simple squabble? And so it went. Powell was vilified personally and assassinated politically by CBS affiliate WROC-TV Channel 8.

So what did happen to Robin Jackson? According to two eye-witness testimonies at the preliminary hearing on October 13th, Powell was at a bible study when the attack happened. At her November 6th press conference, Powell stated, “Apparently, from the way she looked when she came to court, someone did beat her up,” but emphasized that it was due to Jackson’s own affairs and had nothing to do with Powell.

There was no statement from the accused within the WROC piece. There was no statement from Powell aired on WROC the following day, or even the following week. In fact, it took WROC nearly a month to interview Powell [Quicktime video: Low-Res] who, for the month of October, was effectively incarcerated. Contrast that with the Democrat & Chronicle (D&C), labor struggles aside, which did the journalistic thing and reported on statements from Powell from within jail on October 12th.

But I don’t want readers to think I’m just bitter with WROC. On October 10th and 11th, story after story coming out of the corporate press in Rochester on this case was abysmal, across the board from the D&C to the Fox affiliate WUHF-TV, all the way to R-News, the corporate press either simply copied from each other’s work or wrote pieces very similar- all with the purpose of framing Powell as a violent woman who was a hypocrite. If “objectivity” and a “fair and balanced” newscast is your thing, then Rochester corporate media seem to have failed in this case.

This kind of “journalism” could lead one to question the very integrity of the corporate news outlets within our locality. Do they care about getting the full story, the accurate story? Or is their only concern that of getting the story out first and cleaning up the shoddy journalism later, if ever? What is “fair and balanced” reporting and how was it that these so-called professionals were able to get away with this character assassination? What action, if any, should be taken against these news conglomerates? These questions must be answered and journalists must be held accountable when such jaundiced journalism is allowed to propagate within our community.