Research Blog

Research Blog

The Office for the Advancement of Research, as part of our Public Scholarship Initiative, actively solicits blog entries from John Jay faculty, staff, and external scholars working on issues of key contemporary and historical significance. We promote these entries on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, as well as within the university through a partnership with our Marketing and Development Office. If you wish to contribute an entry, please contact Director of Research Operations Daniel Stageman at dstageman@jjay.cuny.edu with a brief (1-2 sentence) summary of your proposed entry.

Our three most recent blog posts are posted below, to see older posts please visit here

MSNBC Made Donald Trump

Our latest blog entry comes from Adam Berlin, Professor of English at John Jay College. This entry was originally posted on 5/6/2016 at newsmax.com.

Blog entry by: Adam Berlin, 5/16/2016

I watch my news on MSNBC.

In the mornings I like "Morning Joe" because conservative Joe Scarborough and liberal Mika Brzezinski speak their biased hearts, yet are willing to call out inconsistencies and stupidities in their own parties.

In the evenings, I tolerate the caricatures that Rachel Madow and Chris Hates (sometimes interchangeable from their glasses down) have become, because they're liberals who sometimes dig deeper into headline news and because, well, they're smart. (Catch Rachel Madow on any show but her own and she's a star, so much more powerful and impassioned than her I'm-so-cute-and-interesting-[and falsely humble] TV persona.)

I put up with Chris Mathews who delivers monologues instead of interviews during his interviews, and shills his book during his monologues.

I try to stay patient as Lawrence O'Donnel enunciates every single word, turning twenty minutes of material into an hour.

I'm a liberal and prefer my TV media liberal. And I certainly prefer MSNBC's hosts to CNN's more-conservative takes on the news. Perhaps what I like best about MSNBC is that each host has a sense of humor, can laugh openly, can take a breath and crack a joke. That's not the case with CNN's dour Wolf Blitzer or buttoned-up John King. I'll give Anderson Cooper a bye for two reasons: People stop me on the street thinking I'm him, and, far more important, he can laugh at himself and others.

A sense of humor - I'm starting to think that's the real litmus test when separating liberals from conservatives. Have you ever seen Mitch McConnell's pursed lips smile? Have you ever hearde Rush Limbaugh laugh a genuine, non-sneering laugh? Have you ever noticed what really makes that famous politically-split couple, James Carville and Mary Matalin, so different? Answer - one laughs a lot, the other perpetually scowls.

But when Cruz and Kasich got KO'd by Donald Trump, well inside the distance, MSNBC lost its sense of humor. Sure, there were lecherously-playful comments about Melania's runway walk toward the podium where Trump would declare victory in Indiana. There were comments about the spokesmodels behind him.

Still, the predominant emotion at MSNBC wasn't humor, wasn't an absurdist's delight in this new reality, a blustering reality star with the ego the size of Manhattan had become the Republican nominee. Instead, there was outrage. Instead there was incredulity and even shock. Instead, there was a reiterative listing of all the things Trump has supposedly done so wrong, so stupidly, so irresponsibly. He was labelled a hater and a racist. He was labelled a man who knows nothing about politics. He was labelled, even as he won, a loser and liability. And, by insinuation, all the people who voted for him were fools.

Here's the rub: MSNBC is as responsible as anyone for Donald Trump's victory. The coverage of The Don was non-stop. The discussion about The Don was non-stop. When The Don held a rally, MSNBC was there  more than any other network. The reason is crass-clear - MSNBC wanted the ratings. And it's a hell of a lot easier to criticize and make fun of than to compliment and analyze. (I'm guilty as charged in my first paragraphs here.)

Had MSNBC been principled, had they truly wanted to make a unified effort to stop Trump (which would have reflected their political views, which I'm sure, each MSNBC host would tell you, are based on principle) then they would have put their coverage where their collective mouth was. They would have limited Trump coverage. They would have given their air time to Hillary and Bernie and to some of the larger political issues that this country faces.

Several news stories that highlighted the dangers of free trade might have cut into Trump's appeal. In-depth reporting on bankruptcies might have helped the cause. A more timely look at the history of Trump's recently-anointed campaign manager Paul Manafort's relationship to Vladimir Putin might have highlighted the hypocrisy of Trump's isolationist rants.

Instead, it was Trump-time all the time on MSNBC.

They made a choice: they covered Trump for ratings; they traded integrity for a bigger piece of the viewing pie. There's a political word for this, a word we hear very often these days - it's called pandering. MSNBC revealed itself as the Hillary Clinton of news stations.

I'll keep watching MSNBC. Just like too many democrats will vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election. There's no better alternative.

But MSNBC should come clean. MSNBC's talking heads should remove their false masks of outrage and incredulity. They know the truth. They helped make Donald Trump possible. And, for them, that should be no laughing matter.


Civilian oversight, policing research, and open data: Beginning a new public conversation

Our latest blog entry comes from Dan Stageman, Director of Research Operations for the Office for the Advancement of Research at John Jay College.

Blog entry by: Dan Stageman, 4/19/2016

In February of 2015, the National Association for the Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) held its first academic symposium in partnership with Seattle University. The event – held in the wake of the police-civilian conflict that erupted following the Ferguson verdict, and coinciding a scheduled Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Seattle – was entitled Moving Beyond Discipline: The Role of Civilians in Police Accountability.

This Friday, April 22nd, John Jay College will host NACOLE’s second academic symposium, in the context of the ensuing year of national discourse on police-community relations. The title for this new symposium – Building Public Trust: Generating Evidence to Enhance Police Accountability and Legitimacy – speaks to the nature of how this conversation has evolved in the nearly 18 months since the Ferguson verdict. As the visceral anger and destructive unrest that accompanied those initial protests in Missouri has cooled, the Black Lives Matter movement has coalesced into a social, cultural, and political force to be reckoned with. An initially forceful counter-protest movement, which attempted to connect the ‘Ferguson Effect’ of ubiquitous public surveillance and perceived hostility toward law enforcement with an apparent rise in violent crime and homicide rates in cities across the country, has dwindled to a background murmur.

Perhaps most important for the criminal justice scholarly community, law enforcement policy-makers have begun to listen to the concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter movement and allied advocacy organizations  – and to respond in ways that push the conversation forward. Many of these responses have the potential to bring fundamental changes to the practice of law enforcement, the philosophy of policing, and – in the long term – the culture that makes many American law enforcement agencies so resistant to change.

The starting point for many of the constructive policy responses to the concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter movement is the Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, to which both NACOLE staff and John Jay College faculty made a number of important contributions. This week’s academic symposium takes as a particular focus the Report’s Action Item 1.3.1:

To embrace a culture of transparency, law enforcement agencies should make all department policies available for public review and regularly post on the department’s website information about stops, summonses, arrests, reported crime, and other law enforcement data aggregated by demographics. (13)

One year after the Report’s release, it is difficult to overstate the importance of this action item, or the impact that it has already had on departmental policies in major city law enforcement agencies across the country. Analyses like those produced by John Jay’s Misdemeanor Justice Project – on many years of misdemeanor arrests, summonses, and enforcement rates in NYC – would not have been possible without data shared by the NYPD. Commissioner William Bratton’s continued support for the project – even as he occasionally takes issue with its findings – perhaps speaks as much to a shift in open-data policy nationwide as it does to philosophical differences between Bratton and his predecessor, Raymond W. Kelly.  

For as much as major law enforcement agencies have themselves engendered a shift toward making publicly available important data on law enforcement activity, a more important driver of openness appears in the Task Force Report’s Recommendation 2.8:

Some form of civilian oversight of law enforcement is important in order to strengthen trust with the community. Every community should define the appropriate form and structure of civilian oversight to meet the needs of that community. (26)

Civilian oversight in NYC took a giant step forward with Local Law 70 and the formation of the NYPD Office of the Inspector General in 2013. Appointed to the post in March of 2014, Philip K. Eure (who serves as committee co-chair for the NACOLE Symposium) has approached data-sharing and evidence-based assessment as one of the core functions of his office, pushing the NYPD on its use of litigation data in one of its first official reports.

This push for open data, in response to the concerns raised by recent protest movements and advocacy efforts, is an effort well-suited to the agencies tasked with formal civilian oversight of law enforcement; the question of what to do with this data once it is shared with the public is one that research scholars need to answer. In the hands of social scientists, open data can be transformed into a staggering number of genuinely useful tools: algorithms for predicting potential police misconduct, a relational database and typology for analyzing departmental trends in use of force, or a process-oriented framework for designing the roll-out of a major urban police department’s body-worn camera policy.

All of these tools will be featured, in presentations from the researchers who designed them, at Friday’s Symposium. The conversations that follow – led by leading oversight professionals, and including an audience of academics, policymakers, funders, law enforcement practitioners, and members of the public – should provide an open forum that pushes these researchers to refine their work and better respond to the needs of the communities whose advocacy helped make them possible.

Ultimately, however, these partnerships and the tools to which they give rise are only one link in a chain that should end with the general public. True transparency is about communicating the workings of formerly opaque institutions to the public those institutions are ostensibly intended to serve. Transparency in law enforcement should strive to correct the informational imbalance between the police and highly-policed communities – an imbalance that allows an arresting officer to pull up the intimate details of a suspect’s life on a computer screen with the touch of a button, but prevents community members from knowing the realities of, and the rationales for, the manner in which they are policed.

Both scholars and oversight agencies are often ill-suited to make the final connections that communicate their vital work to the publics – particularly highly-policed communities – they mean to benefit. The vital role for journalists in disseminating the evidence-base that these researchers are working to build cannot be overstated. Resources like The Crime Report’s media toolkits and Guggenheim Fellowships, that support evidence-based criminal justice journalism, make it possible for journalists to better communicate the meaning of publicly available data to a public that might not have the expertise to digest this data directly.

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Why the Trump presidential transition has just begun

Our latest blog entry comes from Heath Brown, assistant professor of public policy at John Jay College. This entry was originally posted on TheHill.com.

Blog entry by: Heath Brown, 4/14/2016 (original: 4/13/16)

For much of this presidential campaign, Donald Trump (R) has been dismissed as an nonserious performer, capable of drawing large crowds and attention, but not much more. Seemingly unaware of many policy details and unwilling to name who has shaped his view on key issues, what a Trump administration would actually look like has remained a mystery.

That mystery may have just been solved. After a stinging defeat in the Wisconsin primary, Trump elevated Paul Manafort's role on his campaign to oversee the GOP convention delegate process. The choice of Manafort signals not just a change in direction for the campaign, but also gives a strong indication of what a Trump White House might look like.

Manafort is a seasoned Washington insider, operating at the intersection of money, politics and influence for the last four decades. How Manafort rose to prominence suggests several important, yet largely underappreciated, aspects of electing a new president.

After Ronald Reagan defeated President Jimmy Carter in 1980, Manafort was named coordinator of personnel during Reagan's transition to power. The presidential transition period — often eclipsed by the attention paid to the campaign — occurs over 77 days between Election Day and the inauguration in January. It is during this period that hundreds of critical decisions are made about public policy and who will be appointed to join the new president in the White House and in the Cabinet.

For Reagan, personnel decisions were no trivial matter. Reagan's team adhered to the mantra that "personnel is policy" to emphasize how important it was to have a team of ideological loyalists to implement his agenda. Manafort helped Reagan appoint an array of conservative stalwarts across government, hundreds drawn from the new brain centers of the conservative movement: the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution. Many were brand new to Washington, arriving in Washington, D.C. from California after decades of loyalty to Reagan.

Yet when the transition period ended, Manafort didn't follow others in the conservative movement into the Reagan administration. Instead, Manafort and his partners on the transition team, Roger Stone and Charlie Black, opted to start their own lobbying firm. Manafort traded on his service to a newly elected president not with a job in the White House, but by peddling influence in the then-burgeoning field of high-priced lobbying.

To be sure, Manfort was not the first to lay the foundation of a lucrative future on K Street during a presidential transition. Twenty years earlier, Clark Clifford helped John Kennedy transition from candidate to president, but did not later join the Kennedy administration. Instead, Kennedy joked that "all he asked in return was that we advertise his law firm on the backs of one-dollar bills."

Fifty years later, Trump's choice of Manafort suggests several things. First, if Trump hadn't yet started planning for his transition, he is now. Manafort knows exactly how much work must be completed immediately after the election and that planning must begin long before November.

Second, in choosing Manafort, Trump's history of vague answers about whom he would appoint will soon change — if not publicly, then at least privately. While he courts delegates for the GOP convention, Manafort will also begin assembling the names of supporters who will be considered for key posts in a possible Trump administration. Given the aversion of many establishment Republican insiders to Trump, these names may come from as far away as they did during Reagan's transition, likely holding few allegiances to the Republican Party, but a deep commitment to Trumpism.

Finally, during Trump's pre-election transition, it seems likely that he will not be averse to a prominent role for lobbyists and influence-peddling. President Obama famously imposed strict restrictions on what lobbyists could and could not do during his transition, and every indication suggests that 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney would have upheld this precedent if he had been elected. However, the choice of Manafort indicates that Trump may not be as concerned about the conflicts-of-interest inherent to having lobbyists plan for his administration while at the same time representing clients who have ongoing business with government.

For months, experts have worried about the lack of clarity on policy and personnel issues from Trump. We may now be entering a phase where those worries will shift to the increasingly clear picture of what a Trump administration will look like. As many focus on Manafort's effectiveness as presidential campaign adviser, all should keep an eye on Manafort as presidential transition planner, too.


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