Monday, January 12, 2009

Spin Control at the Street Level

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

After posting the Matthew Astorga piece Dec. 30, 2008, I received comments, including the following anonymous offering, posted here without editing.
While it is importnat to remember that a life has been taken, I think it is also important to report the whole story. Mr. Rodriguez stabbed Matthew in the back twice, barely missing his artery only days before "they" say Matthew killed him. A couple of days after this stabbing, the family home of Matthew which he shared with his wife, mother, and two small children was shot at. Mr. Rodriguez was a member of "La Eme" A California Prison gang. What was he doing in Kansas anyway? Calling Matthew wife and threating her... threating to kill Matthews whole family... Why are these things not being reported?

Really... why is this making it to the Albuquerque media outlets? Because Michael is still awaiting trial? Seems the criminal justice system doesnt care about innocent until proven guilty. And neither does the media
(Anonymous) 1/4/09
Which led to my posting the follow up. I wanted the information to be brought into the public discussion.

The comment sections of the newspaper sites, both the Leavenworth Times and San Gabriel Valley Tribune, where there was a reporter written obituary, had discussions about the two men and their families. I realized that there was an effort to go beyond the news accounts, to put a face, a personality on the bare facts of the stories. The effort seemed to be the equivalent of spin control.

I threw down the gauntlet about posting comments anonymously.

I spoke with Leavenworth County Under Sheriff Ron Cranor. He had no direct information and did not think his Department had any contact with either Matthew Astorga or Ruben Rodriguez and directed me to the Leavenworth Police Department as the lead investigative organization.

I forwarded the anonymous allegations to the public information officer of the Leavenworth Police Department, Major Robert Smith. Smith responded:
We are well aware of all of these events. Although, your poster is apparently not concerned with accuracy of information. Matthew was not stabbed in the back twice, nor was he stabbed by Rodriguez. The stabbing was reported, but not by Astorga, he would tell us nothing. His wound was minor and he refused medical treatment. Astorga does not live in our city so the alleged shooting was not reported to us. It was called in but not reported to any law enforcement officials. When Sheriff's arrived they could find no evidence of a shooting and no one would talk.
The factual accuracy of the anonymous statements came into question.

I received another comment, this time signed by Christy Armell.
I am honestly tired of the media only showing one side of things. This is how the juctice system tries to ensure that the defendants do not receive a fair trial, which is a right that is guaranteeed by our consititution. So many people rely on the media for correct information. It is a blind person who beleives what they see on TV as the whole truth.

The man that Matthew is accused of killing, stabbed Matthew only days before this situation. A day after the stabbing, of which Matthew was air-lifted to a hospital to help save his life, the family home was shot at. This home included a wife and two small children.

The alledged victim is a known gang member for California. Why was he in Kansas to begin with? And why has the media not covered what the truth is regarding this man?

I am sorry for the loss of this man, but the truth is the truth. Threating phone calls to the family, and threats made of murder of family members in court need to be addressed as well.

I also wonder why this blog is even being maintained by someone in Albuquerque. This alleged crime occured in Kansas, and really has no bearing on what is happening in New Mexico. Matthews brother, Michael is awaiting trial in NM, and it seems that any type of media outlet will work to bring the Astorga name into the mud, and into the spotlight once again. These are the same people who argue that our justice system is fair and just! Nothing is fair about what the media has protrayed regarding this family.
(christy armell) 7:46 PM 01/06/09
So what’s wrong with this picture?

Armell is a full time student through the on-line campus of the University of Phoenix majoring in criminal justice who will graduate in May. She is also an Anti Death Penalty Activist.

In a telephone interview, Armell said she wrote the anonymous comment and rewrote the signed version to comply with this site’s policy.

Armell is a friend of Theresa Romero, mother of Matthew, his brother Michael Paul Astorga and another son, Anthony Lucero. She has provided moral support to Romero and her family; she attended court for Michael Astorga’s pre-trial hearings and says she writes or visits him on a weekly basis.

Armell went to Kansas after the shooting death of Ruben Rodriguez in Leavenworth. Matthew Astorga was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, felon in possession of a handgun and fleeing or eluding police. These are all felonies. 

Armell spoke with Matthew, but did not ask him who stabbed him. “He talked about it (the stabbing), but I didn’t ask questions,” Armell said.

Armell is concerned that local press coverage sensationalizes the brothers and makes it difficult to find an impartial jury in Albuquerque for the up coming trial of Michael Paul Astorga, who is charged with killing Bernalillo County Deputy Sheriff James Mcgrane Jr.

Michael Paul Astorga was already a fugitive at the time, wanted on another murder warrant for the November 2005 shooting death of Candido Martinez, described as a childhood friend, according to press accounts at the time.

Michael Paul Astorga’s Attorney, Gary Mitchell, has argued unsuccessfully for a change of venue in the case where the State, through local District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, seeks the death penalty.

Armell is not the only one trying to spin the personalities of the two men who came together on December 26, on the front lawn of 900 Cheyenne St. in Leavenworth, a house only five blocks from the federal penitentiary. She is attempting to shield the public from such news to protect Astorga’s brother.

The dead man, Ruben Rodriguez, 50, was a California native, from Asuza. According to family members, he was addicted to heroin and was arrested for bank robbery at age 17. After serving time, he was involved in trying to help rehabilitate gang members. He moved to Missouri, then Kansas to escape his past.


Members of both families and their friends are using the comment sections of the media to express their thoughts, memories, feelings and loss.

The comments are found amongst hate filled accusations of all sorts of unsubstantiated rumors and speculation.

Armell asks some fair questions while embedding them in a less than candid recitation of what happened. She asserted that Rodriguez stabbed Matthew twice in the back. However, when pressed, she changed the story. Armell said she had conflicting information as to who did the stabbing; one source named Rodriguez, another did not know. Matthew told Armell that he did not know who stabbed him. She also changed the location of the stab wounds from, two in the back to one in the back and the other in the neck, just missing the jugular.

When asked about the police statement that the wound was minor and Astorga had refused medical treatment, she confirmed the part about refusing treatment by an ambulance and said that his mother, Romero, drove him to a local hospital where he was airlifted to a Kansas City trauma center. He was treated and released, according to Armell. She was unclear about when the stabbing occurred in relation to the shooting, but thought it was two or three days earlier.

Armell had only scant information about the house being shot at; she did know that it was not struck. Armell offered no information about the source or details of any threatening phone calls.

The First Amendment is a prohibition against government limiting speech and the press from having wide-ranging discussion on all manner of topics. Little has been deemed by the courts to be off limits.

The Sixth Amendment is the requirement that government provides an accused a fair trial.

The First and Sixth Amendments stand in stark conflict.

Government, through its police and prosecutors, may not try a case in public.

In emotional and high profile cases, it’s hard for some in government to exercise restraint. Yet, at the same time, government has an obligation to help inform the public through their cooperation with a free press. Disseminating facts about incidents are a critical part of societal needs. Even one of the principles of policing established by Sir Robert Peel was that crime news must be widely distributed.

What police and prosecutors write in documents filed in court are considered fair game for press coverage. What is generally considered improper is speculation or opinion about what facts might mean.

My Take

What I found fascinating is the level of spin placed on the stories that are meant to shade the public’s perception of the various participants.

The Internet levels access for the public that is usually filtered by the news media. The press is a filter on what is deemed important, necessary and newsworthy.

Much of the public will still rely on corporate media to act as their filter. Journalists have a duty to determine what news to report. It is a juggling act; determine what the public wants to know and also determine what the public needs to know. The authors of the First Amendment understood the crucial nature of open and public debate and the need to assure political speech. To protect political speech, the drafters of the Bill of Rights knew that all speech must be protected.

“Informed public discussion is essential to wise policy,” wrote the chief architect of the First Amendment, James Madison.

The press is simply an extension of speech. Thomas Jefferson in 1787, before the Constitution was written, himself wrote:
The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
190 years ago today, January 12, 1819, Jefferson who was also no great fan of newspapers, in a letter to Nathaniel Macon wrote:
I read no newspaper now but Ritchie's, and in that chiefly the advertisements, for they contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper.
“I am honestly tired of the media only showing one side of things,” Armell wrote.

News normally is not about the ordinary day to day lives of people going about their business. However, news is certainly about the deaths of people. In a paper of record, a common citizen may expect to see their name in print three times: for their birth, their wedding announcement, and as an obituary.

Matthew Astorga has been convicted, and he ultimately pled guilty, after an appeal of the murder conviction was overturned and returned to District Court for retrial, of the 1996 killing of Jose Maldonado Sigala in Martineztown, near downtown Albuquerque. His brother, Michael Paul who was present at the shooting, was also charged in that case and was acquitted by the jury. Subsequently, he’s been charged with murder in the two previously mentioned events. Astorgas’ half brother, Lucero is serving a life prison sentence for murdering a fellow soldier. Amongst three family members; they have been convicted of or charged in connection with five deaths. These facts alone constitute news when it comes to the attention of a local journalist.

News can also be personal. I am going to write about Matthew and Michael Astorga because they touched me. I stood over a complete stranger, Maldonado Sigala, and watched as his life ebbed away. I was helpless in any effort to stem the blood flow from the multiple shotgun wounds. He died shortly after being taken to the hospital.

I hope I’ve given as much of the other side of the story that Armell and others might want.

The criminal justice system will take up the allegations and juries will render their verdicts in due course.

Hopefully, the citizenry is adequately informed of what happens in our community or what our hometown residents are doing.

1 comment:

donnajeanchamberlain said...

When we become a community of the people, by the people and for the people, we will surely see constructive measures naturally
made at an early stage of civil
disobiedence. Were an errant child
age 9 through 21, embraced and encouraged to adhere to basic civil
behaviors, and reminded of their innate qualities, our people would
advance. Were potential parents
guided through practical manners
and peaceful solutions to stressfull daily lives, our peole would advance. Were we able to have
community newspapers promoting the
awesome and wonderful moments which
happen each and every day, as well as educate them to the challenges and stress neighbors in their communities are having, we would advance as people.
In particular to address "What's Wrong With This Picture", is anyone looking toward the family
of origin and the conditions of birth and home environment? Were women given the oportunity to have a partner, experience the empowerment of birthing naturally (whenever possible, and it IS usually possible) and continue to receive support through community
post-partum, murder would become most uncommon. Autism and social
ineptness are both directly associated to severly interferred
birthings. I am the mother of nine children. My eldest son was executed by the state of Texas in
June of 2008. He taught me to have a woman attending the birth of every child born after him. His birth was severly interferred with.
How many murderers were trained by the military to kill, maim and mutilate, then turned back into society without even the assistance of a half-way house?
What's wrong with this picture?
Let's all begin by building pictures in which Human Kindnesses
are a natural and systematic part of our communities. The quote maintaining a community with newspapers, yet having no government appeals to this journalist major! Mu'ina
aka Donna Jean Chamberlain