Sunday, December 24, 2006

How Much Should Linn Washington Be Trusted With Regards To Mumia?

(Look three Mumias for the price of one)
Since the mid-nineties, Linn Washington has emerged as one of the most vocal, if perhaps the only member of the "mainstream" media in Philadelphia to support Mumia.

The articles and actions he has undertaken and participated in are to lengthy to get into here, but anyone who bothers with a google search will discover that Mr. Washington has been pretty prolific in his support of Jamal.

Mr. Washington is a well-respected, established, and educated journalist. He is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune newspaper and was one for the Philadelphia Daily News. He does freelance work for publications throughout the nation and is an Assistant Professor in the Journalism Department at Temple University in Philadelphia. He holds a Masters Degree from the Yale Law School and a B.S. in Communications from Temple University. In short, he is no two-bit, pseudo-activist who is the usual author of pro-Jamal tracts (see Steve Argue or Kevin Price for examples of that kind of thing.)

Despite Mr. Washington’s impressive resume I must call into question aspects of his pro-Jamal journalism and the validity of the affidavit that he submitted on Jamal’s behalf back in May of 2001. That, and some other ethical issues that I think need to be addressed

In preparation for the writing of this article I read dozens of Mr. Washington’s articles and while they all are consistent in that they are critical of the police, prosecutors, media, and others who oppose Jamal, he seems to pointedly avoid the crucial issue and that is the specificity of the events of December 9, 1981.

Most importantly, an explanation of what his "friend" Mumia was doing at nearly 4am a bullet from the gun of Officer Faulkner lodged in his midsection, slumped over, his own weapon a few feet away, all bullets fired, and Faulkner dead a bullet very likely from Jamal’s gun shattering his skull.

That and the four witnesses who would come forth to call out Jamal as the shooter.

Certainly, it is Mr. Washington’s prerogative to not cover that particularly difficult aspect of Mumia’s case, but so to is it worth pointing out by people who believe that the case need to be examined in it’s totality. It is also worth noting that he clearly views the world through a racial prism.

So, that being the case I went from Mr. Washington’s writings to his 2001 pro-Jamal affidavit. I would encourage everyone to read it as well, because to me, it stands out not for what it says, but for what it doesn’t say. As a trained journalist, Mr. Washington is rather vague in his statement.

But more than that, there seems to be a disconnect between the "evidence" that Washington offered in 2001 and the evidence that he did not in 1982 at Jamal’s trial or the 1995 PCRA hearings.

The affidavit that he offered in 2001 would have been a compelling story and one that I would think that his employers would have found quite interesting considering that many of them still thought of Jamal as "one of their own"back in 1981. Yet I only found one article with Mr. Washington’s name on it around the time of Faulkner’s shooting and it repeated none of the claims of the 2001 affidavit.

In a Daily News article from the day of Faulkner’s killing, in which Washington is given partial credit for writing, Washington spoke of Jamal’s presidency of the Association of Black Journalists, to which he credits Jamal with making the group "more active and out front". That is it. No mention of un-guarded crime-scenes or police beat-downs.

None of the concerns that Washington would later express in his affidavit made their way into print until his affidavit , but more than that, they did not make their way into Jamal’s 1982 defense or 1985 PCRA hearing. According to Washington he went to the scene of the crime some four hours after it occurred and "found this total lack of police presence at a crime scene to be highly unusual."

After going to the scene of the crime Mr Washington logically went to the hospital where Jamal was. He reported in his affidavit that he was told at the time by a hospital staff member that "police were beating Mr. Abu-Jamal in the ER". The well-trained reporter fails to name the provider of this information and given the statement was given in the present tense one can presume that it was intended to be taken as that at that moment, Jamal was being assaulted by police.

Strangely enough, as Mumia was allegedly being beaten by police, Mr. Washington was making his way to get his eat on, where he makes the claim that he " saw two other reporters that I knew. It is my recollection that during a conversation with them one stated that he had talked with a person he knew in the hospital who told him of having seen police assault Mr. Abu-Jamal in the ER."

Again, Mr. Washington doesn’t name names and according to my research, the first article pertaining to alleged abuse at the hands of Police came over a month after the shooting and the author was not Linn Washington.

If one is to believe all of the stories of police brutalizing Jamal than one would expect Jamal’s own witnesses to corroborate and bring medical evidence to back this up. But this is not the case. Dr. Colletta, one of Jamal’s own witnesses testified at trial that Jamal’s non-gunshot wounds were superficial and not at all consistent with a beating that if one were to believe Washington went on for over four hours. Dr. Colletta testified that Jamal’s injuries were the following:

A. I believe in the left upper aspect of the forehead somewhere near the mid line of the head up near the hair line.

Q. Any others, sir?

A. He had swelling over the left eye, a laceration of his left lower lip, and there was soft tissue swelling on the right side of his neck and chin.

Now police did admit to "accidentally" running Jamal into a pole as they were taking him to the police wagon and an arriving Officer admits to giving Jamal a firm kick as Jamal was reaching
for his gun that was a few feet away. The above injuries seem more consistent with that than they do a savage and nearly continuous beat down.

And that is about all there is for Washington’s affidavit. It is heavy in rhetoric, speculation, allusions to racism, but light on facts and seems to fly in the face of common sense. The affidavit
appears to be more of a desperate stunt by a man who wants to help his admitted "friend" than anything to do with a factual recounting of the facts.

And more importantly, Mr. Washington makes no mention of contacting Jamal’s 1981 attorney, Jamal’s appelate attorney, or even the very high-profile Leonard Weinglass with his information.

As a journalist, not to speak of an admitted friend of Jamal, it strains credulity to the breaking point to believe that Mr. Washington would just "come around" to these memories when he made his affidavit in 2001.

Furthermore, in his post affidavit writings Washington fails to disclose his role on behalf of Jamal in the legal arena nor does he even bother himself to disclose that he is Jamal’s friend and has been so since 1974. He only sees fit to spout off his numerous journalistic accolades and the fact that he has been "covering" the case since the night of the shooting.

Acel Moore, another long-time journalist who knew Jamal, and is pro-new tria,l is unambiguous in his view that when a journalist becomes directly involved with a case that they should no
longer write about it. I don’t know if I share that view, but I am certainly of the opinion that the journalists’s involvement be made known to the readers of their writings.

To me, this raises ethical questions with regard to open disclosure given the fact that Washington wants to be an actor on the pro-Jamal legal action, act as a journalist in the media, and move in and out of those two worlds as if his readers do not deserve to know.

And while this particular posting does not so much delve too deeply into Washington’s psyche, there are places where he is proud to display his condescending, not to mention insensitive and cruel state of mind. In a vicious letter he wrote in 1999 in response to one that had been written by Maureen Faulkner, Washington lectures the widow on the art of journalism and than pretty much calls her a liar. His tone is un-proffesional, mean-spirited, and nearly hyesterical in it’s form.

At issue was the fact that Leonard Weinglass had led the Jamal movement into believing that Mrs. Faulkner was making impossible statements as to her accusation that Mumia "turned and smiled at her after her husband’s blood stained shirt was displayed". The Mumia "movement" denied that Jamal was even in the courtroom when the shirt was put on display, but that was not the case. Mumia was in the courtroom and so was Maureen Faulkner. After the shirt was displayed Maureen claims that she started to hyperventilate when Mumia turned and smiled.

She was distressed to the point of having to be taken to the hospital. But for Washington this is neither a point of neutrality or sympathy, but a point to attack.

From my view, I wouldn’t think that Mrs. Faulkner need to compose falsehoods in order to come after Jamal. She does, after all, hold him responsible for the death of her husband and a jury has come to the conclusion that he deserves to die for this crime.

My argument is not so much that Washington should not write about the case. I think he does a fine job of making it clear that pro-Jamal supporters are a little more than factually challenged and must rely on instances other than the actual facts of Jamal’s case to show his innocence.
Sound confusing? Read some of Washington’s latest work and you will get what I am trying to say.

And it is not just with Mumia that Washington has run into some ethical quandaries over the years.

In 1998 Washington interviewed a murder suspect and refused to turn over his notes to authorities. He ended up being fined $40,000 for his trouble on behalf of this would be convicted killer friend as his arguments failed in court. Incidentally, the man that Washington was trying to protect was convicted of third degree murder and sentenced to 10-30 years in prison.

I have my own indirect connection with Linn Washington that furthers my suspicion of his credibility and ethical dedication to his craft.

Long before the days of this blog, I was contacting numerous media types in and around Philadelphia in the hopes of getting more of the story of MOVE out to the general public.
Although, I had been the subject of a lengthy article in the Philadelphia Inquirer I still felt that there was a good deal of story to be told.

So, I shopped around and I did in fact speak to a number of different journalists. Some of whom were interested and some of whom were not. Linn Washington’s name was brought up. I was told flat out that there was no way that Washington would ever do a story remotely critical of MOVE. I inquired further and as it turns out, Washington and his family were allegedly threatened by MOVE members after an article he did write was somehow offensive to MOVE.

I was not at all surprised by this, having been the target of threats myself by MOVE and knew that many others had faced the same kind of intimidation, but I was disturbed that a reporter who seemed to have the tenacity to take on "racist" elements of the city of Philadelphia was allowing himself to be cowed by the thugs of MOVE.

A sad post-script for what should be a stellar and fearless reporter. But, such is the way with MOVE. They control and rule their tiny spot of the world with fear and apparently not even award winning journalists are immune to the bullying of a tiny cult.

Is Linn Washington the man who should be treated as the "expert" on Jamal’s case as he has been in the past and is now? I don’t think so. He has too much emotionally invested in this case to even give the pretense of impartiality. And his writings on the matter leave much to be desired.


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