Culture watch: No time for facts!


Was Troy Davis guilty: Troy Davis was executed on Wednesday night. This produced a great deal of cable discussion.

But was Troy Davis actually guilty? It depends on what paper you read.

If you read the Washington Post, you learned that Davis was guilty. Charles Lane produced this highly unintelligent column insisting that Davis was obviously guilty as charged.

Lane's overpowering sense of certainty stamps him (again) as strangely unintelligent. On the other hand, he did read the 174-page report by Chief Judge William Moore of the U.S. District Court in Savannah, the Clinton appointee who heard Davis' new evidence in June 2010 and found it severely wanting. (He even provides a link.)

Also in Friday's Post, Gene Robinson said Davis was "probably guilty." He cited the findings by judges like Moore down through the years.

But if you read the New York Times, you got a different story. The headline on Wednesday's editorial called the impending execution "a grievous wrong." Among other things, you read this:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (9/21/11): Seven of nine witnesses against Mr. Davis recanted after trial. Six said the police threatened them if they did not identify Mr. Davis. The man who first told the police that Mr. Davis was the shooter later confessed to the crime. There are other reasons to doubt Mr. Davis's guilt: There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime introduced at trial, and new ballistics evidence broke the link between him and a previous shooting that provided the motive for his conviction.
Say what? The man who first told the police that Mr. Davis was the shooter later confessed to the crime? And Davis was executed anyway?

What happened to the guy who confessed? The editors didn't say.

Lane's piece was defiantly unintelligent. The Times editorial wasn't much better. And guess what? Searching through the help of Nexis, we can find no news report in either newspaper which attempted to lay out the evidence. If anything, the work on cable was worse, a point we'll revisit next week.

So how about it:

Was Troy Davis innocent? Guilty? Our journalistic culture is very weak. In this much-debated case, our biggest news orgs made no real attempt to say.


  1. What very few stories mention is that the police found the victim's blood on Davis' shorts but the trial judge ruled the evidence inadmissible at trial.

  2. You are correct Bob, I have been trying to find a more complete account of what happened, including what previous court decisions said and have been having difficulty finding accurate reporting on the entire case. For example, I find it hard to believe that seven witnesses testified falsely while under oath. I can't speak for others, but I can't imagine myself lying on the witness stand, as supposedly seven of nine witnesses did. I am looking for more complete information on the entire case include what the appellate court decisions were.

  3. What very few stories mention is that the police found the victim's blood on Davis' shorts but the trial judge ruled the evidence inadmissible at trial.

    From the report by Chief Judge William Moore mentioned in the post:

    'The State introduced evidence regarding Mr. Davis's "bloody" shorts. (See Resp. Ex. 67.) However, even the State conceded that this evidence lacked any probative value of guilt, submitting it only to show what the Board of Pardons and Paroles had before it. (Evidentiary Hearing Transcript at 468-69.) Indeed, there was insufficient DNA to determine who the blood belonged to, so the shorts in no way linked Mr. Davis to the murder of Officer MacPhail. The blood could have belonged to Mr. Davis, Mr. Larry Young, Officer MacPhail, or even have gotten onto the shorts entirely apart from the events of that night. Moreover, it is not even clear that the substance was blood. (See Pet. Ex. 46.)'

  4. The affidavits of witnesses recanting testimony can be found here:

  5. I have now read most of Judge Moore's decision concluding that Davis was probably guilty of the crime he was charged with including the reasons for discounting the alleged changes of mind several witnesses had. Their change was made by affidavids and not subject to cross-examination.
    Judge Moore was appointed by Bill Clinton and I believe that he looked at the case objetively and concluded that the alleged new evidence did not put reasonable doubt about the original verdict. While I do not support the death penalty, I do belive that after reading Judge Moore's decision that Mr. Davis is guilty as charged.

  6. Guilty or not, I am opposed to the death penalty because innocent people have ended up on death row but thanks to the heroic efforts of innocence advocates, a small fraction of innocent death row inmates was exonerated and released from their hell. We have a very imperfect judicial system and the poor get especially crushed by the wheels of justice.

  7. "Back in the day" when newspapers believed they played an important role in shaping public policies and public opinion, back before journalists became lazy asses reciting press releases and he said-she said stories, back when a newspaper like the New York Times or The Atlanta Constitution would have put a reporter or a team on the story and told him or them to get to the bottom of the story, back in those days we probably would have had a definitive, multi-part story about the entire case. That was then; a partial story is now.

  8. Wow, I've been listening to Democracy Now's coverage of Troy Davis and no one has mentioned someone else confessing to the crime. They did say that the man who accused Davis had the same gun on him as the one that killed the victim, and that he's one of the witnesses who didn't recant his testimony, but nothing about a competitive confession.