Tuesday Talk*: Marshall Project Phone Home

Despite my having little good to say about the Marshall Project, a point raised by criminal defense lawyer, activist and producer, David Menschel, evoked a response by lawprof Carissa Hessick that piqued my interest.

Both have a point. While the Pulitzer hook isn’t at all what one might suspect, it coming by dint of a MP writer riding the coattails of ProPublica, and the vast majority of the content at the Marshall Project being of the tear-jerker, legally vapid, sort that’s become so popular with the homebound and terminally unemployed, during the hours General Hospital isn’t on the air, are they an organ of the #Resistance, are they legitimate journalism or are they . . . something else?

This was the last post at the Marshall Project that caught my eye:

The Hardest Phone Call a Prosecutor Has to Make

Law school doesn’t prepare you for delivering bad news to victims and their families.

So sad. So very sad. So what?

“This is Jean,” I say. “I’m from the prosecutor’s office. I would like to talk with you regarding a case in which you were the victim. Could we meet in person?”

“No, just tell me why you’re calling,” replies Sue*, a sexual assault victim.

“I would rather speak in person.”

“Just tell me now.”

A conviction was reversed. Saved you a click. But this isn’t just some petty prosecution melodrama. The conviction was for rape. It’s one of the most elusive ironies of the day that social justice warriors applaud the reversal of a murder conviction for a due process deprivation, but are outraged by the reversal of a rape conviction for the same.

There is nothing wrong with Marshall Project running this post, whether it’s true or not. This reminds those who cry “JUSTICE!!!” that they’re wrong, that justice isn’t just their preferred outcome, and there are other perspectives, equally valid, that see it very differently.

But it does little to explain what the hell the Marshall Project exists to do. Is it an organ of the Resistance, as David argues, that just sucks at its job? Or is it journalism, as Carissa sees it, that just sucks at its job? Inquiring minds want to know.

*Tuesday Talk rules apply.

19 comments on “Tuesday Talk*: Marshall Project Phone Home

  1. Richard Kopf


    A wise New Yorker put it best, “If you don’t know where you are going,
    you’ll end up someplace else.” All the best.


  2. John Neff

    I think criminal justice system journalism is similar to hurricane journalism. Both do a lot of damage many people are harmed and there is nothing you can do about it.

      1. John Neff

        It would make a difference if people took them seriously. Insiders and many outside observers do not we don’t know much about the others but I am confident that some of them don’t.

        1. SHG Post author

          A good point. The Pulitzer aside, they haven’t had any significant impact. Though they have a ton of cash to work with.

          1. John Neff

            The system is adversarial and the journalists are expected to quote experts who will make contradictory statements. Most readers can spot contradictions and that in my opinion is why some readers don’t take the articles seriously.

            I am an outside observer so I could be wrong but I don’t see a remedy for that.

  3. wilbur

    I don’t recall having read anything before from The Marshall Project. But the article here sounded somewhat out of place, given what I’ve been led to believe is its mission.

    I certainly identified with the author, and with the sometimes very difficult conversations with crime victims telling them charges cannot be filed and trying to explain why. Just not sure why it appeared here unless, as you suggest, it has everything to do with the charge.

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