Gawker and C.J.R. dispute a ‘postcard from the edge’

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Nicole Levy

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Last week, Gawker published a long letter from Texas inmate Ray Jasper, who is due to be executed next Wednesday for taking part in the killing of recording-studio owner David Alejandro in 1998.

It was one in an ongoing series of letters from condemned prisoners that Gawker staffer Hamilton Nolan has been running since 2012, but this latest entry drew the ire of Columbia Journalism Review's Ryan Chittum. Writing for CJR's blog The Audit today, Chittum accused Gawker of letting Jasper "whitewash the facts of his case, and his role in a grisly murder, without any vetting."

Chittum noted that the Gawker post, which has had almost 1.7 million page views in a week, summarizes the crime for which Jasper was sentenced and allows Jasper to assert that he did not commit the act of murder.

"And that's the sum and substance of the facts of the case in the Gawker post," Chittum wrote. "Except to say those facts are in dispute would be a wild understatement. They are a gross misrepresentation of a record clearly established at trial," a record in which Jasper admitted to slitting Alejandro's throat.

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Nolan's post linked to, but did not quote, a judge's sentencing opinion on the case of Ray Jasper v. the State of Texas. Chittum interpreted the link as Nolan "short-arm[ing] his account of Jasper's crime" in a post designed as clickbait.

In an email to Capital, Nolan said Chittum had failed to grasp Gawker's purpose in publishing letters from death-row inmates.

"The purpose is to give a voice to a group of people that are rarely heard from in an unfiltered way. The letters are not edited—they are statements directly from the prisoners .... The purpose of publishing these letters is NOT to re-litigate death row cases or determine the guilt or innocence of prisoners. I explicitly stated this when I began this series," Nolan wrote, referring to a comment he posted on the first entry in the series, which is called "Postcards from the Edge."

And Gawker got at least one concession from Chittum. By mid-morning, his post had been updated with a note that read in part, "Gawker Editor John Cook says suggesting they ran the letter for clicks is 'galactically stupid.' Fair enough. My point is, Gawker got them, and it almost certainly wouldn’t have had the post not glossed over Jasper’s crime ...."