29 December 2017
This is something I have been trying to process for awhile, so I’m just going to write it out in a short post here to see where it takes me.
When I woke up this morning, I saw this article in the Omaha World Herald about the Millard South Principal who is accused of assaulting a student. My first thought at seeing his face and name in the article were, “His life is over.” If I, as a teacher, were accused of something like this, it would be hard for me to find a job ever again. Even if I were later found innocent and the chargest against me were dropped, the image of me in the newspaper with my name against that headline would be enough to discourage many future employers. I am not condoning what this guy did or is accused of having done, so please do not think that.
I found out that not all media works this way. I had my students perform translations of crime stories, and I noticed a trend. None of the stories had names. Here is a quick example from the Baltic Times. Notice that it does not include the names of the suspects. This is not an accident. My students pointed out that in Latvia, you are innocent until proven guilty. So journalists do not publish the names of the accused, but only of the convicted.
How simple is that idea? In the United States we claim that people are “innocent until proven guilty”, but as we have seen, the court of public opinion is a much more powerful force than perhaps even the justice system. It moves quickly to convict those who are accused as soon as a face and name are shown on the local news. Reporters go out of their way to dig up dirt on suspects and, if the story is sexy, they will milk it until it bleeds.
I really do not have much more to say about this topic other than the simple and clear point of how wrong it is in our American journalism to convict those on trial before a jury or judge has a chance to. I wonder if it has always been this way, and if there is any way to turn the clock back to make it so that suspects are given at least some rights? Why is it that I only had this notion after leaving the system and seeing that it could be done another way? It always makes me wonder about how many things we just assume are done a certain way… and thinking that this is the right way… only because we have never seen anything else.