Many activists fighting against police abuses have embraced longtime GOP activist and Koch employee Radley Balko for his reporting on the militarization of police. Leaving aside the libertarian politics of focusing on the militarization of police as the problem — rather than the worsening class war and inequality in this country that make a militarized police force inevitable — few have bothered to scrutinize the accuracy and professionalism of Balko's reporting.
They should, as the Wall Street Journal discovered too late. Last summer, the Journal published a long excerpt from Balko's book, "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces". Shortly after Balko's article was published, factual inaccuracies came to light, forcing the editors of the Wall Street Journal to fact-check his article, something Balko's editors at Public Affairs apparently failed to do. The laundry list of factual errors and shoddy reporting was so long, that the Journal updated his story by appending a long "Corrections & Amplifications" at the end of his piece. The correction to Balko's reporting stands as one of the most epic reporting corrections in the annals of journalism. Here it is:
Corrections & Amplifications
The Consumer Products Safety Commission does not have a SWAT team. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that it does. Also, the U.S. Department of Education and the Fish and Wildlife Service have law-enforcement divisions, but the agencies say they don't receive tactical or military training and don't operate as SWAT teams. An earlier version of this essay incorrectly said that the agencies have SWAT teams. In addition, the earlier version incorrectly described the execution of two search warrants. In the first case, the FWS says that its officers' weapons weren't drawn when it searched a Gibson Guitar factory in 2009. The essay incorrectly called it an "assault-style raid." In the second case, the Department of Education says its search of the residence of alleged members of a student-loan fraud ring was successfully executed. The essay incorrectly described the search as "bungled" and incorrectly implied that the home was searched because a resident had failed to repay her student loan. Finally, Mr. Balko says that he sought comment from the U.S. government agencies mentioned in the essay while researching a book in 2012. The essay incorrectly implied that the agencies had failed to respond to recent requests for comment.
Balko's laissez-faire attitude towards facts and falsehoods in his reporting should come as no surprise to SHAME readers. As our profile shows, since the late 1990s, Balko has worked as a Republican Party propagandist, recruiter and activist — most of that time in the Koch brothers' front groups like Reason magazine and the CATO Institute. Balko has also operated as an undisclosed tobacco industry lobbyist, and allied with PR industry villain Rick Berman's campaign on behalf of the fast food industry. Moreover, Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal would be the last publication to take a hostile view towards Balko's journalism; from 2001 through 2008, Balko worked for Murdoch as a regular columnist at FoxNews.com. Murdoch served on the CATO Institute's board of directors, where Balko continues to serve as a CATO Media Fellow.
In other words, Balko is the furthest thing from a professional reporter. However, because Balko has pursued a subject dear to many liberal activists struggling against police abuse, and because he comes with deep Koch pockets and relationships — no one on the left has had any interest in checking Balko's facts and professionalism. Apparently fact-checking a reporter is something only done when we disagree with the report; otherwise, it's unseemly.
The problem of course is that a right-wing GOP shill like Balko is earning the credibility and respect of many on the left, who aren't even bothering to question why a Koch-funded PR operative has taken such an interest in police militarization, and what their political goal is in doing so. As SHAME revealed, Balko believes the answer to criminal justice problems is privatization. Balko has proposed privatizing criminal labs and privatizing juries, and defended Stand Your Ground laws during the Trayvon Martin trial by falsely asserting, "Stand Your Ground was not a factor in the Zimmerman verdict."
Balko has even called for privatizing National Security, in a FoxNews article headlined: "National Security Needs Private Sector Innovation."
These are Balko's libertarian politics, which he is certainly entitled to. But they are not likely the sort politics that Balko's many progressive boosters share.
Read Radley Balko's SHAME profile...