U.S. Media Do Not Give Us All Sides of the Story
Editor’s note: Kevin Cooper was convicted of a 1983 quadruple murder and sentenced to death in a trial in which evidence that might have exonerated him was withheld from the defense. His case was scrutinized in a June 17, 2017, New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof. Visit savekevincooper.org for more information.
DEATH ROW, SAN QUENTIN, Calif.—In 1964, the late Malcolm X told a crowd of people in Harlem, “This is the press, an irresponsible press. It will make the criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing. … You let the man maneuver you into thinking that it’s wrong to fight him when he’s fighting you. He’s fighting you in the morning, fighting you in the noon, fighting you at night and fighting you all in between, and you still think it’s wrong to fight him back. Why? The press. The newspapers make you look wrong.”
There is supposed to be freedom of speech and of the press here in America. That is in the Constitution. Malcolm X knew back then, as many of us know now, that freedom of speech, especially in the media in all of its various forms, from newspapers to radio to television, has had and still is having a very powerful effect on the way black people have been seen throughout the history of this country.
So for we who are darker than blue, freedom to others is not freedom to us. We have always paid a high price for any freedom, even that of speech or the press. By “we,” I mean the people of all races and classes and both sexes who fought hard throughout this country’s torturous and bloody history.
It was those people who made the powerful do what they said they would do when they put it on paper in the Constitution. Just as freedom is not always free, due to the high price many people had to pay for it, including death, the press is not always free, either. The press has, at times throughout its history, been the cause of great harm, including death to many a person.
This happens because the press is run and controlled by human beings—and corporations, I should say. Some of the human beings and corporations that control the press have proven to be biased, prejudiced, racist and sexist. They have religious hatred and other problems that have made their stories one-sided and have swayed the public because of how they report on people and events.
Many people have been told a lie: that death row inmates have cable TV. The only cable we have is a black cable that serves as the antenna so that we can get television reception that otherwise would be hard for us to receive because of all the steel and cement in this place.
For decades, people like me in places like this could only see TV news programs from the standard TV stations: ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS. All but PBS had a uniform way of reporting the news, all seeming to tell the same story with every story they covered. This was before Fox. After Fox, the arc went the other direction. There seemed to be no middle ground when it came to the press on TV. That may or may not be true, but that is how it seems.
Telling the same story was especially true during the Iraq War. Throughout history, the media has sold or tried to sell every war to the people of that time. But when it came to listening to the words and voices of different people throughout this world and even contrary views in this country, there never seemed to be more than a token representative from the people affected by the events of the day.
Then something happened to change the way many people could see the news, and the media had to adapt to it: No. 1 was cable TV, No. 2 was the internet and No. 3 was free television and its hundreds of stations.
I cannot speak about cable TV or the internet because we inmates are not allowed to have either. But I can speak about free digital TV, which we are allowed to receive. Now, instead of getting just ABC, CBS, Fox and PBS, I receive televised news from around the world. I can hear the words and voices of an entire people, not just a token representation. I can see for myself the effects of poverty, war, oppression and other ills that are taking their toll on many poor people around this world.
This is true of people in this country—those oppressed by oppressors between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, from the Canadian to the Mexican borders.
Because of technology, all of us—if we care to see what is shown—can bear witness to all types of crimes by many different people, including the police.
I can now watch KBS News (South Korea), Telemundo and Univision (Latino), BBC World News, Hechos AM (Latino), Chinese Global Television Network, Central China Television, France 24, DW News (Germany), NHK Newsline (Japan), RT (Russia Today), Al-Jazeera (Arab, Muslim), NTD World News (Japan), NTD Taiwan News, Saigon TV News (Vietnam), Pan-African News and more. With closed captioning, Spanish words, for instance, are translated into English, and I can understand exactly how some Latinos really feel about their plight in this world—not just in this country.
Because I am able to watch, listen and learn from all these unique TV stations and news programs, I have learned to see the world and the people in it in a new and better way. I have learned to see this country and its government in a different way, too. Not the way that certain corporate media outlets want us to see it, but in the way that it really is. I am no longer restricted to listening to the same old news from the same old media in this country. My horizons have been expanded, and I now am able to see all sides of the story. This has helped me become a well-rounded person and a more informed human being.
Whenever I see a story on ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC, especially about war, and I find the same story on one or more of the different news program I watch, I can learn the other side of the story. In fact, whenever I hear something on the news, I often ask myself, “What aren’t they saying?” If I knew what they weren’t saying, then what they report may be entirely different in the context of telling the whole story, or the whole truth.
The more information one can learn about a given subject, the more informed and well-rounded that person becomes. Sometimes it seems that the mainstream news media are dumbing down their viewers, speaking to them as if they are dummies. They want news to be entertainment, but news isn’t entertainment. It’s news. Even a person like me—who has been banished to another world, this modern-day plantation—knows this.
The best thing to happen to the free press is that now people can get news from many different sources and no longer have to listen to the one-sided views of certain news media. With more information, we can now truly make up our own minds as to what and who to believe.
Fox News, the right-wing, conservative, Republican news station, has supported capital punishment. So do other news media, and if you think I am lying, I must ask you: What have you been smoking?
I was convicted of murders I did not commit with the help of the conservative, right-wing, Republican news media in 1985. This was long before Fox showed up on the scene. But those Republican news outlets in San Bernardino and San Diego counties helped seal my fate by what they didn’t report, as well as by what they did.
Now, in 2018, the different types of media—TV, print, radio, podcasts and websites—are learning, maybe for the first time, the truth about my case and wrongful conviction and are exposing it to the public. This is even true among some Republicans, because the truth about my plight is disturbing to them, too.
Here’s the thing that bothers me and should bother you, too: The news isn’t supposed to be conservative or liberal, or any other way. The news is the news is the news.
Still, the news media, as free and as powerful as they are, aren’t always trustworthy. So many people are doing what I had to learn to do: Get information from as many different news sources as possible, put it all together and see what makes the most sense. It’s not enough for someone to not like what is being reported and call it fake news. The real news is out there to be found, and it’s up to all of us to find it. There is no middle ground on this.
We all have to know, and need to know, and should want to know all sides of the story.
That’s why this new technology is so important. For the first time in history, it allows people all over the world to see and hear others just like them speak their truths in their own words. While many of these people don’t look alike or speak the same language, they are alike because of their class status. They speak the same language of the oppressed, because they all, to one degree or another, are saying the exact same thing to their oppressors.
They are all saying: Keep your bullets out of our bodies, and your bodies off of our land. Keep your knives out of our backs, and your foot off of our asses. Keep your cuffs off our wrist, and your shackles off our legs, and especially keep your hands out of our pockets.
In other words, stop oppressing us, and leave us the hell alone.