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Framing an Execution: The Media and Mumia Abu-Jamal

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Framing an Execution: The Media and Mumia Abu-Jamal


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This film provides an important case study for students of journalism and communication.  The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist on Pennsylvania's death row in connection with the death of a police officer, had become by the late 1990s a global symbol of inequities in the U.S. judicial system. The mainstream media could no longer ignore it, but how would they cover such a hotly disputed case and the questions of judicial bias that it raises?

ABC, on its newsmagazine show "20/20," set the journalistic tone for how to cover this controversial story in a special report, "Hollywood's Unlikely Hero." While characterizing the defense as "passionate" and uninformed, ABC star reporter Sam Donaldson claimed to provide the "facts" based on ABC's "four-month investigation of the case."

Framing an Execution examines how Donaldson's framing of the case stands up to the available facts and how it measures up to basic journalistic standards of fairness, balance, and accuracy. This film offers some answers, but also raises disturbing questions about media and judicial ethics.

Narrated by actor Danny Glover, the program also features actor Mike Farrell, Professor Angela Davis, FAIR Program Director Janine Jackson, veteran journalist Tom Gardner, Attorney Leonard Weinglass, and Professor John Bracey. (Sam Donaldson did not respond to the invitation to appear.)

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