Monthly Archives: June 2011

Only half the story

Last fall, Mac McClelland was in Haiti reporting for Mother Jones on the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake. She caused a tempest in a tweetpot after live tweeting a day spent with a young woman seeking medical care after being gang raped in a camp. It was, as you would imagine, a horrific story. Reading it as it happened, in 140 character installments, was a bit like what I imagine getting kicked in the stomach repeatedly feels like. 140 characters doesn’t allow room for context, or room to breathe.

McClelland got a lot of criticism for telling the story the way she did. She was accused of a lack of journalistic integrity, rudeness, sensationalism, taking advantage of her subject and a lot else besides. If you trust a good journalist to be one across multiple media, much of it didn’t have much merit, though I’m not aiming to write a defense of the morality of the endeavor.

But I thought it was kind of great.

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I already agree with you, please don’t make things up

Matt Stoller has a new article on the evils of prison privatization, which I wholeheartedly agree with. An industry which considers a risk:

reductions in crime rates or resources dedicated to prevent and enforce crime could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities

pretty clearly does not have the best interests of, well, anyone at heart. Stoller’s article makes many familiar (and correct!) anti-privatization points, and frames his piece in response to a WSJ article about modern day debtors’ prisons from March. According to that article, there have been more than 5,000 arrest warrants signed for failure to pay debts, from January 2010 to March 2011 and interviews with judges across the country have said that “the number of borrowers threatened with arrest in their courtrooms has surged since the financial crisis began.” With that a springboard, Stoller asks

What is behind the increased pressure to incarcerate people with debts?  Is it a desire to force debt payment?  Or is it part of a new structure where incarceration is becoming increasingly the default tool to address any and all social problems?

Wha? There’s no indication in the article that there has been increased rate of warrants issued for debtors, only that more threats of arrests have been made since the start of the financial crisis. When more people have gotten into trouble with debt. Also, the WSJ quotes the owner of the largest publicly traded debt-buying company as saying they are specifically not looking to incarcerate people for nonpayment of debt.

With so many good arguments to marshall against privatization, I don’t get why Stoller chose this dubious one, based on a months old article at that. Surely this new report from the Justice Policy Insitute, released just this week, would have been a better hook.

The WSJ piece may be a more surprising and high-profile springboard than a think tank report, but when you have to misconstrue it to make your point, you’ve taken a wrong turn.


For every visiting academic who never stirs out of his bolt-hole in Westwood and comes back to tell us how the freeways divide communities because he has never experienced how they unite individuals of common interest…there will be half a dozen architects, artists or designers, photographers or musicians who decided to stay because it is still possible for them to do their thing.

-Reyner Banham

Not like other cities

Overheard in LA:

I know, it’s raining! Isn’t it exciting?

-Mother to small child