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Taking on the media

In a new book, retired prosecutor Walt Lewis says reporters, talking heads omit key facts.

January 24, 2008|By Mary O’Keefe

La Cañada resident and former deputy district attorney Walt Lewis said it took him about four years to complete the writing and editing his book, “The Criminal Justice Club” but the reality was that he had been preparing to tell this story for most of his professional life.

“I’ve been collecting statistics since the 1970s,” Lewis said. “I was waiting for somebody else to write this book, but they didn’t.”

Lewis served as a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney from 1968 to 2000 and in those years he prosecuted cases from murder to white collar crimes. In his book he takes the reader from his beginnings as a young liberal ACLU member and civil rights demonstrator to his role as a conservative prosecutor.

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“My main goal of this book is to educate the public,” Lewis said. He added that he was surprised how little the public knew about the actual workings of the justice system but admitted that he too fell victim to the same misconceptions when he was younger. He got most of his information on the justice system from the print media and television.

“I grew up watching ‘Perry Mason’ and ‘The Defenders’ where the D.A. was always the bad guy,” said Lewis.

He joined the district attorney’s office because he wanted to see what the other side of the courtroom was like. What he found surprised him.

“I found statistics like those [convicted] in first degree murder in 1976 served the average of 10 years and three months,” he said. “Only people who saw the statistics, which I would imagine would be the very few, would know about this.”

Because he felt that the jury was the true power behind the criminal justice system he continued to be disturbed by misleading reporting on several cases.

His book is a look at the legal system from a prosecutor’s point of view. It is critical of the media who, Lewis writes, “does a poor job of giving the public accurate information about how the system works.” His criticism is backed by extensive research and validated through examples of articles, specifically those published by the Los Angeles Times.

Lewis asserts the media may not actually lie about the cases they cover, but they omit important facts, which can lead to a biased look at the issue.

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