Protecting Our Democracy and Fact Checking the Fact Checker
Crime has been a key focus in the mayoral debates, but the media coverage of this issue shows a bizarrely biased disparity in the scrutiny given to each of the major mayoral candidates.
On August 7, one of the TV stations held the first mayoral debate between incumbent Sandy Stimpson and former two-term mayor Sam Jones. Immediately afterwards, one of the debate hosts charged that several of Sam Jones’ remarks were untruthful. Having failed to challenge any of Stimpson’s statements, the reporter implied Stimpson was a paragon of honesty. In the second TV debate held a week later, Stimpson aggressively pushed the line that Jones was deliberately lying about their records.
In the first debate, Jones said that crime is higher and may be at an all-time high for the city. The moderator admitted that the murder rate increased from 2015 to 2016 but said overall crime is trending downward. Going back to the March 29th 2016 edition of the Lagniappe, reporter Jason Johnson concluded that homicides, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and vehicle theft were up in 2016 from 2015 levels with an 8.9% increase in total crime, a 10.7% rise in violent crime, and a dramatic 70.8% jump in the rate of homicides. National crime statistics show patterns similar to those in Mobile, and importantly, in the here and now, as reported, serious crime has clearly increased dramatically.
In the shadow of these damning crime statistics, Stimpson promoted the then-Mobile Police Chief to be the City of Mobile’s Public Safety Director. The facts clearly are that the latest crime statistics fly in the face of Stimpson’s bold pledge to make Mobile “the safest city in America” by 2020. But the bizarre focus on singularly fact-checking Jones isn’t the only instance of misleading reporting Just Mobile has witnessed this election season:
- In a questionable violation of campaign laws and park regulations, a Stimpson campaign event closed down a public park, removed those present leafletting with concerns about the campaign event, and had the event patrolled with a shocking number of police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and constables;
- The Mobile City Council has shifted major resources into rainy day funds, police, capital expenditures, and inappropriate corporate subsidies while affording an ever-shorter shrift to city employees and retirees, ignoring gentrification, aggressively cutting the city’s public transportation budget, and irresponsibly curtailing support for moral imperatives like appropriately addressing our community’s homeless and housing insecure, our blind neighbors, our neighbors living with HIV/AIDS, and other communities with pressing social concerns.
- Just Mobile’s actions have received scant media attention despite representing a broad-based, cross-issue coalition of organizations and interests;
- In fact, not a single outlet reported on any part of Just Mobile’s candidate engagement process despite only one incumbent with the integrity to respond to Just Mobile’s exhaustive issue-based questionnaire and not a single incumbent participating in our We Hear You! town hall that saw dozens and dozens of Mobile residents raising concerns about the direction in which the city is headed;
We think it is worthy of at least some column inches that local media examine contributions to Stimpson’s campaign, as they seemingly reveal him as a clear favorite candidate of local and regional wealth. Just Mobile thinks it’s worthwhile that local media analyze the fact that at the beginning of July, he had a beginning campaign balance of $459,000 which included scores of donations to the tune of $1,000 or more as well as what appears to be well over $100,000 from the South Alabamians for Good Government PAC.
Since the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, those who exercise political speech through corporation campaign donations have gained far more sway than the individual Americans who vote at the ballot box. In Citizens United, the Court ruled that corporations have constitutionally protected free speech rights and could contribute unlimited sums for or against political candidates while their influence is hidden by rules allowing that sources of contributions be obscured.
If Mobile is to advance toward a political economy reflective of the lives and interests of its residents, we need the transparency that a watchdog press should provide in order to report on the plight of the marginalized, small businesses, workers, and our environment. The essential differences among the many candidates should be diligently illuminated, and the professed concerns central to their campaigns challenged across the board. An informed electorate should be the final arbiters in our democratic process; not the advertisers to which too many of our local mass media outlets seem to be beholden more so than to the public interest.
Just Mobile is a democratic project of the Alabama Coalition for Social and Economic Justice (ACSEJ), a group of multiracial, multicultural and LGBTQ-inclusive voices committed to transforming our community through positive collaborative, democratic, non-violent, grassroots, issue-based civic engagement in Alabama.