Nicole Valera – Criminal Defense

Fighting the system, one case at a time…

The Press – Friend and Foe

I woke up this morning to get ready to go to court – just have one  matter and I will be done in court for the day.  I was going through my morning routine, which includes reading the news, getting my breakfast ready, picking out the clothes I am going to wear, when I came across this LA Times Article “Judge Halts Execution of Rapist and Murder”.  I am an opponent of the death penalty so this article piqued my interest, and especially the way the article was titled.

That title is meant to get you incensed – how on earth could a judge do such a thing? Save a rapist?  Save a murderer? Halt this monsters’ execution?

But if you read the article, it’s about the legality of the method in which a person is put to death in California. It reveals that recent inmates who have been executed in California may have not been completely anesthetized and may have suffered extreme pain from the cocktail of injections they received.  The way I read it, it suggest that the method in California may be cruel and unusual punishment, which is unconstitutional in our great nation.

It’s not about a judge “saving” a murderer or rapist.  The title is the first thing you read – it’s the theme that you carry with you while you read the article.  Will the average reader be able to read that article objectively?  Is the title just meant to grab the readers’ attention? Or is it meant to create fear that our justice system is getting soft and we need to toughen up on crime?  Because I can tell you, from working the front lines, a criminal defense attorneys’ job just gets harder and harder.

In my mind, I’ve always framed the death penalty issue as a human rights issue, and an issue for humanity.  I am sure that there are philosophers out there who can put it more eloquently than I will ever be able to express, so I will simply say that I oppose the death penalty.

The Press can be a friend to a cause as well – take for example, Jose Antonio Vargas and his series on the AIDS epidemic in Washington DC.  His work has inspired the documentary “The Other City”, a powerful film chronicling the real life experiences of those suffering from HIV/AIDS in our nations’ capital.

I don’t think the LA Times article does anything helpful for the anti-death penalty cause, and I have no idea if that was even the point.  I saw the title, was interested, and then immediately annoyed.  That title was there to get me to click on it.  Thoughts?


September 29, 2010 - Posted by | General Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Headlines sell papers. Or, in this day and age, headlines sell links to click. Every headline is meant to instill some type of emotion (good or bad) in the reader so that they will read it and that type of news can be very misleading- hence my less serious post about misleading headlines


    I agree with you. This headline makes it seems as if the judge supported the rapist/murderer- which is absurd and makes those of us who are against the death penalty have to fight that much harder to make people realize this is a human rights issue.

    Great post!!!

    Comment by girlonthecontrary | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  2. I know what you mean. It’s frustrating that the title of something is so seductive and impressionable. Unless you have a clear stance on a subject, one is easily swayed to go along with whatever the press (or who/whatever) tells them to believe.

    Comment by The Simple Life of a Country Man's Wife | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  3. This isn’t an excuse in online media, but for print newspapers, one of the main factors driving the wording of a headline is what will fit in the space. Sometimes the space constraints make it difficult or impossible to express exactly what the journalists would like the meaning to be, so they have to settle for something close that fits. If this article also ran in the print edition, I bet spacing was a factor. You could say something like “Judge delays execution until cruelty issues resolved,” but lots of luck getting that to fit. It’s hard to express complex ideas well in a headline.

    Comment by Cara | September 29, 2010 | Reply

    • Space constraints? Why not just say, “Judge Halts Execution”? That’s short enough, and precise enough to pique someone’s curiosity. I think Nicole’s observation is right on this one.

      Comment by Darren | September 29, 2010 | Reply

      • I’m a reporter and paginator for a Pacific NW newspaper and I know that when Cara mentions space constraints, she doesn’t mean shorter is ALWAYS better. In the hypothetical situation, “Judge halts execution” could be too short. It’s not that a headline has to fit in a smaller space, it’s that it has to fit in a very specific amount of space.

        The other aspect of headlines is that—in print—they can afford to be more dramatic because they have supporting context from the article and any photos *right there*. On the web—and I believe that was the case with the article in Nicole’s blog entry—short, dramatic headlines are usually exactly what you don’t want because they’re by themselves before the reader clicks on them. They need to have as much information as possible, which in this case might be “Judge halts execution to investigate possible cruel and unusual punishment.”

        Unfortunately, many bull pens that are still shifting mindsets to online media have trouble writing web-friendly headlines.

        Comment by Lewis | September 29, 2010

  4. I agree with you! I read the title and think “What a nice judge”… it is attention grabbing. I think the death penalty is cruel and unusual no matter how it is carried out. THanks for the blog.

    Comment by Dawn | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  5. Nicole, thank you for sharing your thoughts about this article.

    I have gone from being 100% for the death penalty (i.e. “Kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out.”) to being 100% against it. I’m not saying that criminals shouldn’t be punished for their crimes, I just don’t believe death is the appropriate punishment.

    Some may say, “cruel and unusual punishment?, well what he did was cruel and unusual, and it wouldn’t hurt for him to die that way.” Oh, really? So we lower ourselves to the level of the criminal, and say it’s okay because the law is on our side. Thank you, but no, I’m not comfortable stooping to that level.

    Another driving factor behind my conviction are the many people who have been wrongly accused and convicted. I know there are many arguments for and against the problems that plague our justice system, but this imperfect system is precisely why I’m against the death penalty. I can’t live with the thought of an innocent person being put to death because of a flawed system.

    Again, I’m not saying criminals shouldn’t be punished, I just don’t believe killing them is the answer.

    Comment by Darren | September 29, 2010 | Reply

    • Darren – you were able to articulate exactly how I feel about the death penalty. Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading!

      Comment by nicolevaleralaw | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  6. Sensationalism is definitely implied in that title, I agree. It goes with the idea that the media really do have a persuasive power over readers, which is mostly done subconsciously. Nuetralism should always be the objective in journalism. Bad on ’em.

    Comment by thepeppershaker | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  7. I agree with you! That article at worst was deliberately written (and titled) in a way to misdirect the reader. There is a lot of that in the “news”. It has gotten so that one has to read between the lines to even get an idea what the author is trying to say. Some of this, I suspect is poor writing skills, and some, I fear is deliberate, to slant the news in a way that the corporation paying for the article wants the reader to believe.

    Comment by Hamster | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  8. The headline is doing its job of getting readers to the story. I think you are asking if it shapes our opinion before we get there. I believe it absolutely does that. The judge isn’t halting the death sentence of an innocent man, he is not saving a man from a wrongful death. He is halting the death of a rapist and murderer. What we learn from the article may or may not change that opinion and that is the issue.

    Comment by notesfromrumbleycottage | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  9. Love the way you wrote this post. The first part was very hypnotic. You sure know how to capture your readers. That’s very important too. Not only the headline counts, even though the headline is the one capturing your attention. The first impression while reading the begging of a article – that’s the most important part. That’s where I’ll stop or go on!

    Best regards

    Comment by Lenny | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  10. As a former newspaper page designer and copy editor, I feel I should let you know that there is a lot more to writing the headline of the article than just what the article is about. The size of the font used, the number of character spaces available and the importance of the article in general all have bearing on what the headline will say. (And then of course there is the skill — or lack thereof — of the person who writes the headline.)

    Even if you read the article online it is very likely that the headline used was the headline that fit into the designed page with the article in the newspaper. If it was the top story of the day and stretched across the entire front page it probably had more room to fully-express what the article was about. If it was a sidebar on the front page, however (which is likely because the top story is often a longer enterprise piece that can be planned further in advance) the page designer would have had less room to express what the article was about.

    Furthermore, in some newsrooms the reporters write the headlines and (as a former reporter) I know that the headlines are sometimes written before the entire story is finished and therefore don’t always reflect final story correctly or completely.

    Also, if the headline came with the article (either because the reporter wrote it or because it is an AP story that ran on the wire with a head) the page designer may have simply condensed the head that came with the article to make it fit into the allotted space on the page.

    There’s only so much you can get into 36 characters.

    Although, if I had written the headline, I might have gone with: “Judge halts execution of Greenwood Brown” or “Execution halted to review procedures”

    With more time I could maybe some up with something even better.

    Thanks for bringing this to light.


    Comment by CrystalSpins | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  11. Hi,
    Thanks for your post ad congrats on getting into freshly pressed. The press has so much power – a stage almost. We are lucky not to have the death penalty enforced in England – and this reinforces my relief! The process that people go through whilst on death row must often be full of remorse, pain and fear. I think it’s a very harsh penalty even in acknowledgment of what they may have done.
    What a thought provoking piece.

    Comment by Anna and Her Biro | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  12. Yep, that’s their job, to get you to click on their article. Same with the those stupid gossip magazines and “The Enquirer”. They put a striking title there on purpose. To lure you in, sucker you into reading the whole thing. Yep, you fell for it as well. I mean would it have read it if it said, “Inmates on death row may not have been excuted humanely.” But if a Judge is mentioned, and we all know their word is bible, and it says he HALTED something, then omg, it must have been deplorable!

    Comment by ryoko861 | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  13. That’s true. Sometimes the media persons act like fool for their business.

    Comment by gulzameenkhan | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  14. It has been great to read all of your insightful comments- thank you! Hearing from those who are, or have worked in the news media has been particularly interesting. I realize that getting that click is important for business, but I do believe that journalists have a responsibility not to sensationalize, but report the news. I found the content of the news article to be informative – it was the title that bothered me so much. I don’t know whether the author of the article had a hand in titling his own article, but I think I was able to convey my disappointment in the choice, whomever it ultimately belonged to. Practicality should not outweigh journalistic integrity, whatever the space constraints may be.

    Comment by nicolevaleralaw | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  15. Huh. This is interesting. (And I always think it’s funny how article titles rarely go with the actual article.) Anyway. To be honest, I don’t know where I stand with the death penalty. I used to know. But lately I’ve heard pretty good arguements for both sides. I just know (knock on wood) I don’t want to be on a jury.

    Comment by Penny | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  16. The written media really can distort understanding if not carefully read. A poor game of telephone.

    Regarding the death penalty…I am dead set against it, until I read about child rapists murderers and that sort of sub-human being then I’m totally for it.

    Comment by gmomj | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  17. Nicole,
    I absolutely agree. I think the traditional press (print media) is just that desperate for readers. When I was in journalism school, long long ago, I was taught not to sensationalize anything. “Just the facts” was literally pounded into my head and for good reason. Journalistis were supposed to be dispassionate observers. Sadly, those days are gone forever. I would give anything to have one media outlet available that would present information without bias. It’s almost nonsensical the way they presented that article because it failed to inform you any level. Great blog though and at least you made a relevant point. Thanks for that.

    Comment by Guy Horst | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  18. I have heard the rapist and child molesters are separated in prison. If there is really such thing as an “eye for an eye” then why don’t they put them in gen pop. I think then they would really get what they deserve. I believe with the death penalty they are getting off too easy. Sorry if the comment didn’t exactly go along with the topic just wanted to get that out there.

    Comment by Scott Bronson | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  19. I am a criminal justice major (almost done with my bachelors) and I go back and forth about the death penalty a lot. I do think the ways in which reporters report the news is completely wrong and it’s just too bad that we have reporters anyway because in my opinion, they seem to do more damage than good when it comes to the criminal justice system. They take one thing and run with it, and sometimes without checking the facts. It is because of the news and reporters that the bad stuff sticks into our heads more than the good; for example, they will go on for days or weeks about something horrible that has happened, yet when something amazing and great happens, it gets the third page, or have way through the news report and only on for a matter of moments rather than days.

    Congrats on being freshly pressed, nice post!

    Comment by The Perfectly Imperfect One | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  20. Coming from the LA Times, I wouldn’t expect a big agenda to support the death penalty, but I don’t know too much about them. As for reader objectivity, I think that depends on the individual. I never read anything, headlines included, without questioning the agenda before me. Everybody in the media has one. Most of all, as you say, headlines are written to get attention. I often use the best caption I can come up with such as

    You wrote a really great piece here. Thanks!

    Comment by educlaytion | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  21. “New Bangkok Airport Declared Unsafe”
    “Bird Flu Emerging as a New Human Plague”

    What do these headlines have in common? Ans: The articles underneath did not say these things at all. The new Bangkok airport was/is fine, and who remembers the bird flu “pandemic”?

    Beware of headlines. They are written by marketing flacks who maybe don’t even read the article.

    Comment by The Hua Hin Arts Guide | September 29, 2010 | Reply

    • Newspaper headlines and stories aren’t touched by marketing reps at any newspaper I’ve ever seen, at least in the U.S. There are professional standards that journalists tend to take seriously, and one of those is not to let the advertising team tell you what is news and what is not.

      In tabloids, and in some European papers, headlines are sometimes chosen for reasons other than accuracy.

      Comment by readingarefun | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  22. A Utah paper had the headline, “Cash is the key to ending financial woes.”

    I’d bet the reporter or editor wrote “Cash flow is… ” and the copyeditor condensed without knowing what “cash flow” actually means (it was the point of the column). That type of thing happens a lot in small newspaper business sections.

    I don’t read the execution headline and think the paper had an agenda. Misleading sensationalist headlines are big in the UK, and they have become accepted here in blogs and political commentary. For hard news headlines, I still hold a small bit of confidence in many of our newspapers.

    Comment by readingarefun | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  23. One of my biggest pet peeves is sensational headlines that mislead the reader. In particular, when it deals with the criminal justice system. It’s one of the reasons that I no longer subscribe to print media. If I want fluff to read, I’ll by an Enquirer!

    Comment by Gamecock Hooper | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  24. Catchy titles catch our interest, otherwise we may not read the articles.

    Comment by zakton | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  25. The fact that sensationalism attracts viewers and is beneficial to the bottom line is evidenced with the widespread popularity of the “Fair and Balanced” reporting of Fox News.

    Concerning your anti-death penalty stance and the fact that you are an attorney, what are your thoughts on the man who killed Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart while he was inebriated?,0,7721132.story

    Having had a string of DUIs, this guy drove drunk and with a suspended license, killing a promising young athlete. I realize this isn’t a popular perspective, but I don’t see a reason why this guy should be kept alive. There are certain situations where those convicted should receive the cocktail. Your thoughts?


    Comment by cddeluca | September 29, 2010 | Reply

    • That was a very sad case and I have been following it on the news. I feel very badly for his family and loved ones.

      I can understand why people want to punish this young man by giving him the death penalty. I can understand it, but I do not agree with it.

      There are many reasons why I do not believe in the death penalty – some of them are philosophical, some constitutional and grounded in law, some sociological, and some of them are pure, raw emotion.

      First, I do not think it is incumbent upon me, or anyone else to say whether another should live or die.
      Second, I have worked in the trenches for only a short while relative to others, but I am by no means a newcomer to criminal defense. I have met some very disturbed individuals, some very violent, and some who just make terribly wrong choices at the wrong time. At this point in my career I have probably represented well over a thousand people, and that’s likely a conservative figure. The bottom line is, even with the worst of the worst, I have been able to see the humanity in every client. Every client is a human being to me, even if that client has chosen not to see others in the same way.
      Third, I think it’s better to be merciful, even in the most difficult of situations – that’s when mercy matters most.

      Comment by nicolevaleralaw | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  26. Does the Tech-savvy Baby Boomer Exist?…

    I found your entry interesting thus I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    Trackback by Baby Boomer | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  27. As a print journalist for 33 years, I have a better understanding of the mechanics of these things than most. There really is no conspiracy to have headlines which “sell” newspapers or points of view, as you put it. It’s much more mundane than that.
    The copy editor takes the writer’s/reporter’s text; checks it for grammar, spelling and factual accuracy. He/she then has to write a heading for the piece. Not only does the heading have to be as accurate as possible, it has to achieve that within a tightly specified letter count, decided by a third party, the page editor, who is marshalling stories for priority from a dozen different copy editors.
    For instance, the copy editor might be told: “Give me five inches on the Colorado bank job, two decks of heading, five columns top deck, three columns second.” In short, this means that the copy editor has to check for grammar, spelling and accuracy, refine the story to get all the main points into five inches (roughly 220 words), then he/she has to write a heading that fits the story and conveys its main points, but with a letter count of roughly 15 characters for the top line of heading (i or l counts as half a character, m counts as two), and nine characters for the second deck. This has to be done filling the allotted heading space as tightly as possible without, obviously, bursting the space available. It all has to be done against the clock in a matter of minutes, because the torrent of stories to be copy-edited is constant.
    Anyone who imagines there is some Machiavellian plot to sell newspapers or mentally manipulate the public according to some grand plan has not seen inside a newspaper on a busy news day. We’re glad just to get it to fit and the paper out on time.

    Comment by Adam | September 29, 2010 | Reply

  28. Bonjour !

    Comment by yolaine chatodys | September 30, 2010 | Reply

  29. […] The Press – Friend and Foe « Nicole Valera, Attorney at Law – Blog […]

    Pingback by Largey Christopher R Attorney At Law lawyer in | Florida Personal Injury Lawyer | September 30, 2010 | Reply

  30. I take your point about the headline, in that it does not really convey the story. Here’s a better alternative that conveys the story and works for the newspaper in piquing your interest: “Judge says death penalty too painful for rapist and murderer.”
    What do you think?

    Comment by blackwatertown | September 30, 2010 | Reply

  31. How a Good Bankruptcy Lawyer or Bankruptcy Attorney Can Help you…

    I found your entry interesting thus I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    Trackback by Bankruptcy Lawyers | September 30, 2010 | Reply

  32. Drug Test Friend…

    I found your entry interesting and I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    Trackback by BlogJungle | October 1, 2010 | Reply

  33. All these comments about the media and crime remind me of the song by Don Henley called “Dirty Laundry”. I mean I guess you could say inquiring minds want to know. What about the people effected by the crime itself. Again, I hope I’m not off base with the topic. If I had a daughter who was raped would I want to see it on every channel I watch? I imagine I wouldn’t but, I guess I would have to realize how the media works which obviously I don’t or maybe I would be making this comment.

    Comment by Scott Bronson | October 1, 2010 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: