NBC’s Today Show Spotlights New Mumia Abu-Jamal Crime Scene Photos

* View the show’s overview and video online.

The December 6 broadcast of NBC’s Today Show, the highest rated morning news show in the country, featured the newly discovered Mumia Abu-Jamal/Daniel Faulkner crime scene photos taken by press photographer Pedro P. Polakoff. The photos had been completely ignored by the mainstream media (only published by the SF Bay View), until a Dec. 4 Reuters article reported on a press conference in Philadelphia where the photos were presented by several prominent journalists, along with other evidence of both an unfair trial and innocence, as was also reported by the Black Commentator.

The photos were presented on the Today Show segment featuring Michael Smerconish and Maureen Faulkner, marking the release of their new book titled Murdered by Mumia. The show followed a massive media-activist campaign that was launched weeks before by supporters of Abu-Jamal to “ensure fairness” on the Dec. 6 program. A large group of Mumia supporters gathered outside the show, and passed out flyers challenging the statement made at the “Murdered by Mumia” website that he “was unanimously convicted of the crime by a racially mixed jury based on: the testimony of several eyewitnesses, his ownership of the murder weapon, matching ballistics, and Abu-Jamal’s own confession.”

Murdered by Mumia: A Police Widow’s Fight For Justice?

The title used for the show, “Murdered by Mumia: A Police Widow’s Fight For Justice,” certainly could have been better since it does serve to equate “justice” with executing Mumia because that is Faulkner’s stated goal. However, after getting past this problematic title, it became clear that this would not be the typical biased mainstream media report on this controversial and emotionally charged case, as we have seen with past shows like ABC’s 20/20.

Co-host Matt Lauer introduced the show by reporting that “On December 9th, 1981 a Philadelphia police officer was shot and killed while serving in the line of duty. A man named Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death. To this day he maintains his innocence. To some he is a cold-blooded killer, to others he’s a political prisoner.”

After Lauer’s short introduction, the set-up piece begins with video and narration by NBC’s Rehema Ellis. While showing video footage of Mumia and numerous demonstrations supporting him, the narrator states that “there have been rallies and fundraisers for a man, many say was framed by a racist legal system.” While displaying the new photos, the narrator reports, “now supporters say there is new photographic evidence that should lead to a new trial,” followed directly with a quote from attorney Robert R. Bryan, that “the jury only saw one side of the coin.”

As the report progressed, it became clear that this was not the typical report from the mainstream media, as expressed in several ways:

1. NBC honestly reported how Abu-Jamal remains in his death-row cell despite the 2001 federal court decision overturning the death penalty.

2. The recognition that “to this day he maintains his innocence” was atypical. Often coverage repeats as fact, the false claim that Mumia has never proclaimed his innocence.

3. The footage of various demonstrations and supporters for Mumia was fairly extensive, and not presented in a demeaning way (as is usually done with labels like “Hollywood Chic,” which serve to trivialize supporters as ignorant or naive dupes. They recognize that Mumia does have strong support around the word, and there is footage of Pam Africa, coordinator of Mumia’s international support network (ICFFMAJ), speaking at a demonstration: “It’s a righteous cause. That’s why you see people here from Belgium, France, Germany, and South Africa.”

After the interview with Faulkner and Smerconish begins, footage is shown of the large demonstration in support of Mumia while Lauer says: “I want to show people a live shot outside our studio right now and show them that there is a fairly substantial protest right across the street from our studio. These people got up early in the morning, came from someplace to express their views that this man is innocent. Why do you think they’re here if they don’t truly believe that?”

Faulkner answers: “They are trying the case in the court of public opinion, and not in the court of law. That is why I think people need to read the book. It’s all there. My life, the facts, [and] what happened the night my husband was murdered. It’s all in the book.”

Lauer then cites attorney Robert R, Bryan, as saying that “when the decision came down in 1982, there were constitutional issues, racism, injustice, and evidence tampering,” then further quoting Bryan as saying that Smerconish is an opportunist.

In response, Smerconish cites the fact that he is not making any money from the book, but Lauer interrupts him, saying “maybe he’s not talking about financial gain,” but rather about “status and attention.” After Lauer asks this, they show a close up of Maureen Faulkner where she appears to be glaring at Lauer.

The Crime Scene Photos

At this point, Matt Lauer brings up the new evidence: “There are some photographs that have been released by supporters of Mumia, and they were taken by a freelancer named Pedro Polakoff. The supporters say that these photos show a policeman holding two guns in his bare hand, contradicting the officer’s trial testimony that he had preserved ballistics evidence. Another shows you husband’s hat on top of a car, and not on the sidewalk as it is in the official police photo of the crime scene. A third shows a blood-stained sidewalk where the shooting took place, but does not show any signs of the marks in the concrete that might have occurred if your husband had been shot from above as prosecutors contended. The defense attorney says that he can ‘have a field day’ with these photographs if a new trial…”

Cutting off Lauer, Smerconish makes no attempts to challenge any of these stated facts. He says “This is the outrage. For 26 years, these canards have enabled the manipulation of the process. It’s as reliable as the fact that Christmas is on the 25th of December, that they will come up with something every year. One year it was a guy who stood up and said, ‘I know who murdered Danny Faulkner — I did it,’ and the defense lawyers thought he was preposterous. Another year, there was a guy who said he was there and that the dying words of Danny Faulkner were “get Maureen, get the children,” when everyone agrees that he died instantly, and unfortunately she never had the chance to have children with Danny. Where does it stop?”

Maureen asks “Where have these pictures been for 26 years? I mean, where have they been? Why hasn’t this man come forth sooner than now.”

Lauer then asks his final question: “Maureen, when you’re alone with your thoughts at night, when you even see pictures of the protests like the one we have across the street, does it ever cross your mind that perhaps they’re right? Do you ever allow yourself to consider the fact that perhaps he didn’t do it?”

Faulkner’s response? “No. He murdered my husband in cold blood and there is no doubt in my mind. Absolutely no doubt.”

Where Have These Pictures Been For 26 Years?

Smerconish did not try and challenge anything factually about the photos, but rather shifted the topic to two completely unrelated witnesses. In contrast, Faulkner addressed them directly by asking why it took 26 years for the photos to emerge publicly.

I asked German author Michael Schiffmann (who discovered them in 2006) to respond to this statement from Faulkner. Dr. Schiffmann says: “Indeed she has a point here. The reason it took so long is that the DA didn’t want these photos, indeed didn’t want to have anything to do with them and actually deep-sixed them. We can ask, why? Their authenticity is not in question as several of them appeared in the papers at the time. They didn’t want them on account of what they might show, an investigation that was incredibly sloppy and manipulative. Their lack of interest — and the fact that they didn’t inform the defense — alone might be reason for a new trial, as correctly pointed out by Linn Washington at the Dec. 4 press conference in Philadelphia.”

This issue of the delay, was one of the central discussions at the Dec. 4 Journalists for Mumia press conferencearticle for Reuters that accurately presented our stance regarding the new photo evidence and our demand for a new trial.

Where Do We Go From Here?

This important show, and its recognition of the new crime scene photos must now be used to go even further. The new mainstream credibility of the photos can be utilized to kick start more media coverage and a longer, more in-depth mainstream media investigation into Polakoff’s photos. Because these photos are such powerful evidence, it can only help us if the mainstream media puts these photos under intense scrutiny. Please help by contacting the mainstream media and asking them to investigate these photos further — giving them the public spotlight they deserve.

For more information about the crime scene photos, see the May 18, 2007 press release by Journalists for Mumia and the October, 2007 press release written by Princeton University Professor Mark L. Taylor of Educators for Mumia.

A full transcript of the Today Show‘s “Murdered by Mumia: A Police Widow’s Fight For Justice” is available with an article by Geoffrey Dickens who writes critically about the show from the anti-Mumia perspective.

Hans Bennett is a Philadelphia-based photo-journalist who has been documenting the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners for over five years. Read other articles by Hans, or visit Hans's website.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Deadbeat said on December 9th, 2007 at 3:38pm #

    Racism is the curse of solidarity.

  2. pdcsupporter said on February 11th, 2008 at 4:52pm #

    There’s a great fact sheet responding to the Faulkner/Smerconish book here: http://partisandefense.org/pubs/articles/factsheet1231.html