The Diederich College of Communication and the O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism welcome Jaeah Lee, independent journalist and a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine.

This Rap Song Helped Sentence a 17-Year-Old to Prison for Life

A novel, ground-up investigation that showed how prosecutors increasingly are winning convictions and long prison terms, even with little other proof, by getting evidence before juries linking defendants to rap music and lyrics, what legal scholars called “racialized character evidence.” The report relied on a 230-person database that took more than two years to build, analysis of that data, and research by legal scholars to show how prosecutors, with the countenance of judges, are evading rules of evidence that are supposed to keep such bias out of the courtroom. The work helped spur legislation in California, New York, and Congress to limit the use of such evidence.


Event Details

Thursday, October 5, 2023, at 4:00 pm in the AMU, room 157

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Join us for an interactive discussion with the reporters along with time for Q&A from the audience.



About the presenter

Jaeah Lee

Jaeah Lee


Jaeah Lee is an independent journalist and a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine. Her stories often grapple with inequity, the aftermath of violence, and the impact of the criminal legal system in everyday lives. In 2018 she was awarded the American Mosaic Journalism Prize for excellence in longform, narrative, or deep reporting on underrepresented communities in the United States. Her work has also received recognition from the PEN America Los Angeles Literary Awards, the Debra E. Bernhardt Labor Journalism Prize, the AAJA Journalism Excellence Awards, the Mirror Awards, and the Online Journalism Awards. She has written for The California Sunday Magazine, The Economist’s 1843 Magazine, Columbia Journalism Review, Topic Stories, Vice News, and Mother Jones, where she previously worked as a producer on the data desk and covered policing after Ferguson.

About the Burleigh Media Ethics Lecture

The annual Burleigh Media Ethics Lecture addresses topical and moral issues facing the world today. Sponsored annually by the J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication, the lecture honors William R. Burleigh, a 1957 Marquette journalism graduate, who started working for the Evansville, Ind. Press at age 14 as a sports reporter. He retired in 2000 as president and CEO of the E.W. Scripps Company, having led the transformation of Scripps from primarily a newspaper enterprise into a media company with interest in cable and broadcast television, newspaper publishing, e-commerce, interactive media, licensing and syndication. Burleigh lectures address ethical issues today's communicators report on, as well as those they wrestle with in their own work.