Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Are we too quick to judge?

I am.

We're in the wake of a whole slew of scandals.  The Penn State scandal with Jerry Sandusky, the Syracuse scandal with Bernie Fine, and we can't forget Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain.  The allegations made against these gentlemen all have to do with sex.  Sex sells.  Right?

Now it is certainly very different to sexually molest children (the allegations against Sandusky and Fine) than to have an affair with a grown, consensual woman (the allegation against Cain).  I am not condoning either of these things.  I think what is being said is terrible.

Moving forward, however, we are taught as journalists to use the word "allegedly."  Sandusky "allegedly" molested those children.  Cain "allegedly" had an affair.  We use "allegedly" because we are innocent before proven guilty in the court of law.  Until the gavel comes down, these men are all innocent.

I would disagree.  This word is thrown around so frequently that we barely notice the word when we read about the crimes "allegedly" committed.  We read the story as truth.  Screw "allegedly."  It happened.  Because in the high court of public opinion, we're all guilty.

Think back to Bill Clinton.  People rarely remember his foreign policy or the fact that he left office with a $86.4 billion surplus.  We remember the little blue dress.

Of course, in that instance he was guilty.  But we see this so frequently that we just assume it's true.  Think of Anthony Weiner.  New York's former U.S. Representative spent 5 days denying that he sent explicit pictures using social media.  On CNN today, Wolf Blitzer compared Herman Cain's affair denial to Weiner's initial denials. The truth will all come out eventually.

So what does "allegedly" mean, then?  If we use the word but then say that it's a matter of time before the truth comes out, we're erasing the word "allegedly."  We've already decided.  "Guilty."

I think the crimes that these men are accused of are horrendous, specifically the allegations made against Sandusky and Fine.  There is no excuse for molesting children.  None.  But just like Casey Anthony, the court verdict is moot.  The damage is done.

The public figure doctrine makes proving defamation near impossible for these people.  Without actual malice (of which there is none), these men and women cannot file for libel and slander (and win, anyway).  It is said that public figures have the ability to defend themselves since they can be heard on the TV or radio.  But as we see repeatedly, defense is useless.  We roll our eyes and groan at the pleas of innocence.  "Please," we say.  We already know they did it.

So what can a person say if they really did NOT do it?  I'm interested to hear your thoughts.  As far as I can see, there's nothing to say.  They're already sentenced, in our eyes.  They have been ostracized.  Grab your pitchforks and torches.  We've got a monster.

I'm just as guilty as everyone else.  I totally judge all of these people.  But perhaps this post is more for myself than for my readers.  Am I too quick to judge?  I think yes.  Maybe it's time for a change.

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