The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review should adhere to journalistic ethics when reporting on incarceration

We condemn the use of outdated, dehumanizing language in a story posted June 3, 2024. The original headline read, Pittsburgh murderer dies 12 days after compassionate release. This is unacceptable, and takes focus away from the substance and spirit of the article.

We were outraged and requested that the word “murderer” be removed. Regardless of our client Mr. Bozeman’s steadfast claims of innocence throughout his life, people convicted of criminal offenses should never be defined by the crime. Mr. Bozeman died at 68 years old after spending almost 50 years incarcerated. During his incarceration, he was a friend, mentor, and loved one to many community members both inside and outside of prison. To malign him with this reductive, pejorative term so shortly after his passing compounds the wrong by adding a callous lack of respect for his memory and humanity. 

As committed members of the movement to end death by incarceration in Pennsylvania, we recognize the truth that nobody is or can be defined by a criminal conviction. We are more than our worst acts, and it is imperative that ethical journalism adhere to this truth and cease using inflammatory language that fuels a racist criminal punishment system.

On behalf of our client Mr. Bozeman and all incarcerated people you will cover in future stories, we are asking that your reporters and editors use language in keeping with the Society of Professional Journalists ethics which requires journalists to “minimize harm” and “treat sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”

The original headline and even the revised headline did not characterize Mr. Bozeman’s life with the respect he deserves. 

Original headline: Pittsburgh murderer dies 12 days after compassionate release

Updated headline: Convicted in 1975 of Pittsburgh murder, ailing inmate dies 12 days after release from prison

A humane headline that shows the “compassion” that the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics also requires could look like this: 

Humane headline: Man incarcerated for 49 years dies 12 days after hard fought compassionate release.

The coverage of Mr. Bozeman’s case by the Tribune-Review was urgent and essential. The headline chosen by editors in the article announcing his death was a regressive throwback to a mode of journalism that is a partisan advocate for institutions of state violence. It is improper and unprofessional to tailor journalistic discourse to state power, and the Abolitionist Law Center will continue to push back on this dehumanizing language whenever we see it in print. 

– The Abolitionist Law Center

(photo of Ezra Bozeman and his fiancee Christine Roess courtesy of Celeste Trusty)