PRINT NEWS: Materially Misleading: How the Houston Chronicle's Coverage of Bond Misinforms the Public


In April 2022, TCJE released Part II of our report series on media bias in Harris County. It analyzed 499 news articles run by the Houston Chronicle between January 2015 and December 2021. We found that while the Chronicle provided balanced and informative coverage of bond reform, the newspaper sacrificed its impartiality by disseminating negative coverage of legally innocent defendants who were rearrested while released on bond.

You can read the full text of "Materially Misleading" in PDF form here, as well as online here.

For the full series of reports on media bias in Harris County, visit our series page here.






Key Findings

Key Findings: Materially Misleading Report

The authors’ analysis revealed a number of findings, including:

  • Racial disproportionalities among defendants in cases covered: The Chronicle’s coverage of criminal cases contained a disproportionate number of Black defendants compared to the makeup of Harris County’s general population.
  • Sources with a vested interest in the outcome of criminal cases: Most of the Chronicle’s crime coverage can be sourced to either law enforcement or the District Attorney’s Office. When not quoting those sources, Chronicle reporters rely on organizations like Crime Stoppers of Houston, the former employer of District Attorney Kim Ogg; that organization regularly receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the District Attorney and law enforcement agencies.
  • Premature—and misleading—coverage of allegations against individuals: Of the 270 unique Harris County charges identified in the Chronicle’s crime coverage, nearly a third of charges were ultimately dismissed, an outcome that was rarely, if ever, reported. Further, almost half of the charges had not yet reached a disposition at the time of our analysis of published articles.
  • Lack of follow-up and context: Although legally innocent people are named in articles about arrests and charges, reporters often fail to follow up when a case is disposed. Additionally, the Chronicle has left its readers largely in the dark about the recent, dramatic increase in dismissals in Harris County’s felony courts.


Recommendations: Materially Misleading

Many media outlets have re-assessed the nature of their crime coverage since the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department in the summer of 2020. Our analysis shows that, despite balanced coverage of Harris County's misdemeanor bond litigation, sloppy crime reporting persists at the Houston Chronicle. In light of the findings detailed in this report, newspapers should acknowledge that their approach to reporting on bond and bond reform functions to undermine police accountability, bolster the power of law enforcement, reinforce racial stereotypes, and undercut further reform efforts.

Read our recommendations on how newspapers can transform their approach to reporting on bond and crime.