KRIV had the highest percentage of negatively biased coverage among the primarily English-language stations, at 85 percent. One article from this station was coded as positive, and only about 4 percent were balanced. Articles run by KRIV on this subject were found from July 27, 2015, to June 29, 2021, and totaled 54. Of these articles, 21 were primarily about bond reform while 33 were primarily about defendants.
Eighteen of the 21 articles primarily about bond reform were either about felonies or did not specify the type of bond being discussed, risking conflation of reforms among its viewers.
Fifty-five percent of articles about defendants were about Black defendants, which is an over-representation relative to the 20 percent Black population in Harris County; this disparity is compounded by the fact that 97 percent of all “defendant” articles include a mugshot. Similarly, 70 percent of defendants were allegedly involved in homicide cases in some way—indicating that these types of cases are likely over-covered.
Crime Stoppers was referenced in 39 total articles—all of which were coded as negative—making it the most common reference for KRIV, even over law enforcement, which was referenced in 27 articles, 22 of which were coded as negative. Police unions were referenced in 9 articles, all of which were coded as negative. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office was referenced in 10 articles, all of which were coded as negative.
Other findings from KRIV relate to coverage of judges, reporter trends, and changes in coverage over time. Local district or felony court judges were identified by name in 32 articles; interestingly, all of them were coded as negative, which raises questions about the reason for referring to judges by name.
KRIV Spotlight: Breaking Bond
In addition to having the highest level of negative bias in its media coverage of bond, KRIV was also the only station we identified as having a special series dedicated to this subject. Of the 54 total articles KRIV ran, 33 were found to be part of the Breaking Bond series—though this may not be an all-inclusive accounting—starting on November 25, 2020. All 33 articles were coded as negative, accounting for a substantial amount of KRIV’s negative bias. Furthermore, Crime Stoppers was referenced in 30 of these articles, which may explain why 12 of the 15 articles primarily about bond reform make no mention of the actual misdemeanor reforms that have taken place. It is also worth questioning how deeply ingrained this unelected, non-governmental group is with KRIV,1 particularly when considering the extent to which Crime Stoppers is referenced in negatively biased articles. Other issues with Breaking Bond stem from its racialized coverage, which over-represents Black defendants at an even higher rate than KRIV more broadly, and its continued, likely over-coverage of homicide cases.
This station report is part of a larger analysis of bias in media coverage of bond reform in Harris County. Read the full report, and see evaluations of other stations: KPRC (NBC affiliate), KTRK (ABC affiliate), KHOU (CBS affiliate), KXLN (Univision affiliate), and KTMD (Telemundo affiliate).
Before releasing this report, we contacted KRIV to ask the following questions.
- Does your station have any policies to ensure that racial or ethnic groups are not disproportionately represented in your coverage of the justice system, in particular stories concerning bail bonds? If so, when was that policy implemented and is that policy presently being followed?
- Does your station have a policy on naming judges, attorneys, or other individuals associated with a criminal case in your coverage of the justice system, in particular stories concerning bail bonds? If so, when was that policy implemented and is that policy presently being followed?
- Does your station have a policy to ensure your coverage of the justice system distinguishes an arrest from a conviction in a criminal case? If your station has covered the arrest of an individual, is it your policy to publish a follow-up story if the charges are dismissed or the individual is found not guilty? Why or why not?
- Crime Stoppers Houston lists you as a partnering organization in their annual report. What is the nature of this partnership, and what activities (financial or otherwise) does this partnership entail? How much editorial control or influence does your station give to Crime Stoppers Houston (including but not limited to the recurring "Breaking Bond" segments aired on your station)?
We have not received a response. You can contact KRIV to request unbiased coverage through their website.
1 Crime Stoppers refers to Breaking Bond as “our [...] Series” in a press release.