Mumia Abu Jamal: The Frame Continues

by Glynn Ash

ABC News, 20/20 and Vanity Fair reported on the case of Pennsylvania death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, claiming to present "new" evidence pointing to Abu-Jamal's guilt. But the evidence presented by ABC and Vanity Fair rely on-testimony of a supposed confession made eight years ago-is questionable on its face, and an old letter that has since surfaced suggests that this star witness is lying about Abu-Jamal.

The major news in both ABC 20/20's July 11 broadcast and the August 1999 issue of Vanity Fair is the testimony of Philip Bloch, a former prison volunteer who now claims to have heard Abu-Jamal confess to the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. During a conversation in 1991, Bloch claims that he asked Abu-Jamal if he had any regrets about shooting Faulkner, to which Abu-Jamal allegedly replied, "Yes."

Why has Bloch waited 8 years? Bissinger doesn't ask (or care), and Sam Donaldson, explains only that Bloch "felt no need to come forward," since "his friend was already on death row."

Bloch's story has some serious flaws and new evidence casts doubt on his credibility. A 1993 letter from Bloch to Abu-Jamal - two years after the "confession" - ended as follows: "So--it is possible to get justice from a jury--not always--but sometimes. So, when you get a new trial-I think that there is a good chance of acquittal."

Why would one write that to a confessed murderer?

But even without this contradiction, Bloch's tale is too dubious for a responsible journalist to run with. Over 18 years of imprisonment, Abu-Jamal has consistently refused to answer questions about the night of the shooting.

Journalism professor Linn Washington, Jr. explained Abu-Jamal's stance in the Philadelphia Tribune (7/20/99), describing an interview conducted under circumstances similar to those Bloch had described:

"During an interview, I asked Mumia a question regarding the shooting of Faulkner. He refused to respond, giving two reasons: (1) his lawyers told him not to discuss that incident; and (2) the cubicle was bugged."

In the rest of his account, Bissinger consistently presents a version of reality that is partial to the prosecution - not surprising, since the writer has a close relationship with Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, Philadelphia's district attorney at the time of Abu-Jamal's trial.

While comparing Bissinger's article with legal journalist Stuart Taylor's article in American Lawyer (12/95), one see's how Bissinger leaves out information that undermines the prosecution and points to the unfairness of Abu-Jamal's trial.

Bissinger says prosecution witnesses "formed a consistent picture of what happened that night."

He doesn't mention, however -- though Taylor does, that these witnesses changed their stories AFTER they were first interviewed by police.

Bissinger scolds supporters of Abu-Jamal for not reading the entire transcript of his case -- 12,000 pages in all -- but several basic errors by Bissinger's seem to indicate he did not carefully review the documents either.

For example, Bissinger refers to Judge Alfred Sabo as Albert Sabo. He also misidentifies a key prosecution witness as a defense witness.

Leonard Weinglass, who wrote Vanity Fair's editors in June, requested a less biased journalist be assigned to the story.

"I found (Bissinger's) manner and demeanor to be that of an angry, even furious, advocate for Mr. Jamal's detractors."

As for 20/20, they leapt on the claims of Philip Bloch in order to bolster its 12/9/98 hatchet-job on Abu-Jamal, for which it received a great deal of criticism.

ABC's Charles Gibson: "Even before we broadcast our investigation into the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal last December, we began to hear from his supporters. Our four-month investigation turned up provocative evidence, and recently turned up something startling."

Aside from Bloch's far-fetched, subsequently debunked tale, ABC simply reiterated the distortions of their previous report.

To the editors of Vanity Fair:

You should immediately issue a retraction regarding the supposed confession related in Buzz Bissinger's August 1999 report. Philip Bloch's claim was unsubstantiated to begin with, and is completely undermined by his letter expressing hope for Abu-Jamal's acquittal.

To ABC - 20/20:

Bloch's implausible story was no excuse for re-running the bulk of its deeply flawed 12/9/98 report. Sam Donaldson and others at ABC were clearly troubled by the criticism their original broadcast received...or were they?

To quote Cokie Roberts: "At this point, it doesn't matter if it was true or has become part of the culture," when it was pointed out to her that qoutes attributed to Hillary Clinton in the new rag "Talk" were either NOT direct quotes or quotes taken far out of context.

This segment simply compounded their journalistic irresponsibility and destroyed what little credibility ABC -- nay, corporate media in general -- and their "reporters" have should all be ashamed that you consistantly whore yourselves in this manner!