Sunday Commentary: Our Job Is to Be the Counter Narrative

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Woodland, CA – In 2009 a family invited me to their home in Citrus Heights and proceeded to explain that their relative had just been convicted of 76 counts of sexual assault on his adopted daughter, they believed him innocent and he was about to sentenced in Yolo County.

That was my introduction to Ajay Dev and his case introduced me to wrongful convictions, a ridiculous 378-year sentence, and it ultimately became the launch point for the court watch.

The idea of the court watch was to shine a more critical light on the court system than what was being presented in the mainstream media—part of that was presenting another side of the story from the pro-prosecutor, pro-law enforcement narrative that has long predominated in the news.

On Friday, I published a column that in part argued that the mainstream media treats progressive prosecutors very different from the way they treat conservative prosecutors.  When crime goes up under the watch of Chesa Boudin, George Gascón or Larry Krasner, for example, they are held to a different standard than when it goes up for more conservative DAs.

Progressive DAs have been under fire even though crime and murders are soaring under conservative DA’s just as much—if not more.

A reader wrote, “A theme that has been prevalent lately is that reformer DA’s are not being treated fairly by the press.

“An honest question for the Vanguard,” he asked.  “Does the Vanguard feel it has treated DA Reisig fairly with its coverage?”

It is an interesting question—though ultimately, I think the wrong question.

The point I have made here is that the mainstream media, whose job it is to provide a balanced and accurate account, has held reform prosecutors to a fundamentally different standard than conservative ones.

In so doing, it presupposes that tried and failed measures of conservative prosecutors are largely not to blame for the rise of crime, while reforms have led to crime increase—even though, empirically, it is difficult to sustain that point.

Our job is somewhat different.  The pro-mainstream prosecutor narrative dominates in the mainstream media.

A perfect example is the coverage that Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig has received by mainstream press.

For example, the LA Times a few months ago, ran a positive article on Reisig and the freeing of Renwick Drake.  A few weeks earlier, there was a similarly laudatory piece on this case in the Sacramento Bee.

“I’m not an ideologue,” said Reisig in an interview with the Sacramento Bee.  “I’m not in the same category as hardcore progressives that are looking to fundamentally rip down the system and rebuild it. I view our job more as threading the needle of criminal justice reform and public safety at the same time.”

Yet we have local publications like the Sacramento Bee and Davis Enterprise continuing to laud the Yolo DA. They seem to agree with the DA’s view: “What Reisig and Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven are doing in Yolo County is more than simply offering an innovative approach to prosecuting. They’re charting a sensible path to contemporary criminal justice and lasting change.”

They add: “Their work contrasts with that of well-known progressives such as San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón. It’s a model that traditionalists like Sacramento’s Anne Marie Schubert can and should be emulating.”

This is typical of the coverage that Reisig has received in recent months in the mainstream news.

Our job: to tell the rest of the story.

It’s great, for example, that Renwick Drake was released from prison finally, but you can question whether he ever should have been in prison in the first place, rather than a juvenile facility—and certainly not for more than a decade.

Reisig charged a developmentally disabled 15-year-old for a crime as an adult when he was not the main person, not the main actor, and at most was following the lead from an older kid by whom he was highly influenced.

In fact, he overcharged the case as attempted murder, which even the jury discounted with their acquittal.

It is not that my view of the case is necessarily right, and Reisig’s view is wrong, but rather than my view of the case was never really told in either the Bee or the LA Times.  Certainly not in the Davis Enterprise.

Over the last five years, you had the Bee and Enterprise endorse Reisig for reelection, and continue to refer to him as the most progressive prosecutor in the state, and ignore all evidence to the contrary that suggests he is not.

Our goal is to tell the rest of the story.  That story is that Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig has done a masterful job of appointing himself as a moderate reformer but his record is not nearly as clean as some make it out to be.

Earlier this year, it was Jeff Reisig joining Schubert and 27 other elected DAs to once again block a modest criminal justice reform—a new credit calculation designed to lower second strike sentences.

District Attorney Jeff Reisig said, “Violent crime has been steadily increasing across most of California. Promoting more early releases of prison inmates who have been convicted of heinous crimes or who have violent records, without any confirmation of rehabilitation, is not making anyone safer.”

Meanwhile, in December, the Committee on Revision of the Penal Code completed their two-year report and recommended a repeal of the Three Strikes Law.

Said the group in their report, “The Three Strikes law has been applied inconsistently and disproportionately against people of color, and the crime-prevention effects the law aimed to achieve have not been realized.”

Nowhere has this been more true than in Sacramento and Yolo Counties.

That report found that Yolo County ranked as sixth in the state in terms of most people sentenced, either as a second or third strike.  Sacramento was just behind Yolo at eighth on the list.

Was that reported in the mainstream media?  Of course not.

In the end, our job—at least as I view it—is to provide that counterbalance that the mainstream media has lacked with respect to people like DA Reisig.

Whereas my criticism of the mainstream media is their failure to balance their coverage of DAs like Jeff Reisig—even as they hold DAs like Chesa Boudin, Larry Krasner and many others to a very different standard.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts

22 Comments

  1. Keith Olson

    “An honest question for the Vanguard,” he asked.  “Does the Vanguard feel it has treated DA Reisig fairly with its coverage?”

    I read this article and the above question was never answered.   David wrote that the question was the wrong question.  Typical spin from the Vanguard.

    So I ask once again, “Does the Vanguard feel it has treated DA Reisig fairly with its coverage?”

    1. David Greenwald

      I disagree, it did answer the question. THe answer is that the purpose of the Vanguard is to provide the rest of the story – especially with commentaries as opposed to straight news articles.

        1. Alan Miller

          So you answer the question with another question?

          To be fair, KO, you answered his question about answering a question with a question with yet another question.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Alan M…

          To be fair, KO, you answered his question about answering a question with a question with yet another question.

          9.4  on scale of 1-10…

          Others do the same, don’t you think?  I wonder… ?

          Particularly the P-A questions, and as the topic is courts/legal system, the classic is,

          “Tell me ‘Mx’ Jones, yes or no, have you stopped beating your spouse?  Remember, you are under oath…”.  A lot of questions posed here are actually ‘statements in the form of a question’… reminds me of one of my favorite shows, ‘Jeopardy’… do you agree?

          [all allegories/puns/cynicism intended… right? I wonder…]

          It is what it is…

        3. Ron Oertel

          Others do the same, don’t you think?  I wonder… ?

          A lot of questions posed here are actually ‘statements in the form of a question’… reminds me of one of my favorite shows, ‘Jeopardy’… do you agree?

          Are those questions?  Is my response a question?

          “Who am I, and why am I here”?  (One of my favorite questions.)

  2. Keith Olson

    The point I have made here is that the mainstream media, whose job it is to provide a balanced and accurate account, has held reform prosecutors to a fundamentally different standard than conservative ones.

    Since when has most of the mainstream media provided a balanced and accurate account about anything?  The mainstream media leans left.  In fact the mainstream media has been a large factor in changing/reforming the American justice system so for the Vanguard to cry about unfairness is at the very least laughable.

    1. David Greenwald

      “Since when has most of the mainstream media provided a balanced and accurate account about anything? The mainstream media leans left.”

      That’s part of the point. The mainstream news you claim has leaned left, but on the issue of carceral issues and its coverage of progressive prosecutors, I and others have demonstrated that the mainstream media has given a lot of benefit of the doubt to conservative prosecutors. I don’t think you can find a single article written by a mainstream news entity (as opposed to an op-ed by a member of the public) that has been critical of Reisig during the entire course of his tenure.

          1. David Greenwald

            What I said was that we are the counter balance, now show me all the critical articles on Reisig in the Bee and Enterprise over the last 16 years.

      1. Alan Miller

        The mainstream news you claim has leaned left, but on the issue of carceral issues and its coverage of progressive prosecutors, I and others have demonstrated that the mainstream media has given a lot of benefit of the doubt to conservative prosecutors.

        In other words, the left-leaning media doesn’t lean nearly left enough, for y’all.

    2. Chris Griffith

      Keith
      I have found people with a blue brain continue to go about their daily lives unaware of the construct that surrounds them, wrapped in an artificial reality of delusion.
      Those of us with a red brain perceive the truth, and we are able to see how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
      Just one person’s opinion.
       

  3. PhillipColeman

    There is no absolute purity in any attempt to report straight news or balanced news. Journalism historians and political scientists will give numerous examples where straight reporting is filled with subliminal bias. When blogs and bloggers accuse mainstream media of bias, they do so with the handicap of being as much, or more, biased as those being accused.

    The local DA is painfully acknowledged here as being “masterful” in the manipulation of public opinion. But is it really true that DA Reiseg is so masterful in media manipulation he’s been able to seduce all the Sacramento Area print reporting outlets to promote his image and agenda? We are in the shadow of the State Capitol and no more seasoned and savvy political news reporters can be found anywhere else in California.

     

  4. Bill Marshall

    Depending on who is doing it…

    A “counter-narrative” can be a ‘countermeasure’ to biased, selective, misleading, ‘spinning’ narrative… and at the same time, be a biased, selective, misleading, ‘spinning’ counter-narrative… the object can be ‘contrarianism’, with facts and accuracy left by the wayside in both cases.

    I’m sure that Q-Anon, Proud Boys, Antifa, ACLU, to name only the tip of the iceberg, do their share and more, of biased, selective, misleading, ‘spinning’ narratives/counter narratives. And/or feel justified in their ‘counter narratives’, as ‘their job’…

    It is what it is… but we have seen that both seldom reach the

    whose job it is to provide a balanced and accurate account

    standard.

    To believe other-wise, is not wise (allegory, and/or pun, intended)…

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for