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It took years for this statement to materialize: “I cannot and will not defend local media’s coverage of the Central Park Five, the Exonerated Five case,” said Dan Shelley, president and CEO of the Radio Television Digital News Association. He was talking about the five Black and brown teenagers who were falsely accused — and convicted, after coerced confessions — in the horrific 1989 rape of a white female jogger in New York’s Central Park.
Now the five have been exonerated, and come January, one of them, Yusef Salaam, is to join the New York City Council. He all but won the Harlem seat over the summer, receiving nearly 64 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.
The young men’s convictions had been vacated in 2003, after they had already served from seven to 13 years behind bars.
A 2014 Journal-isms column on the widely covered case was headlined, “Will the Media Ever Apologize?” At the time, a PBS documentary was about to air. “Filmmakers Sarah and Ken Burns, not to mention the Central Park Five, think it’s time for someone to apologize,” David Hinckley began a piece about the film in New York’s Daily News.
“The ‘someone’ might be news media members who abandoned their skepticism and went for what they believed the best storyline, helping to ruin lives as they convicted the suspects with their headlines, commentary and television scripts,” this column explained.