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Thursday, June 23, 2005

All Revved Up And Nothing To Think

In hearing about the sentencing of Edgar Ray Killen for the 1964 murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, something occurred to me. There are an awful lot of news stories out there that make you feel strongly, but you don't know exactly what to feel, or who to feel it for.

In so many cases, we don't really get to know everything we should to make an informed judgment. Even if we were in the court, there would be a question as to whether or not certain bits of information should or shouldn't have been presented. So, whether or not juries even make informed judgments is a matter of debate, much less we folks sitting at home hearing only highlights.

If you ask me what should happen to racists and murderers I'm quite clear on the matter. But what was presented in court? Did the evidence really support the sentence? It certainly could have. Or, it could have been a case of an overzealous system trying to cleanse itself of a shameful past so much that it's willing to overlook "minor details" regarding due process and proof. I really have no idea and both scenarios evoke strong feelings.

And, no matter how much I read in the news stories, most of them just don't give me the raw data I need. I know who was charged, what they're alleged to have done, who cried, what they looked like, and what all the different people involved have to say about it in sound bites. But where is the list of all the evidence and arguments presented in court in two columns (defense and prosecution) for me to evaluate? Sure, I might be able to investigate this, but the general public isn't going to do that or hear about it most of the time - isn't that why we have a press?

Certainly, I'm not in the jury so what I think hardly matters to the case. But these sorts of stories immediately give you strong feelings about racism, justice, civil rights, due process, and more. If our opinions aren't important enough to include the relevant facts in a news report, then one has to wonder why we need to hear about these things at all? So that we can be as emotionally stirred about our under-informed opinions as possible?

Here we are with another story that, by its very nature, is emotionally charged. We're not one bit short on opinions, emotions, and convictions - only facts. Is this a case of the media informing the public or inflaming the public?

By the way: If you've got an opinion about this particular case and want to settle my confusion by telling me 'how it is' don't bother - that's really beside the point of this post, which is that the media doesn't give enough of the important facts in most emotionally charged cases. I'm not looking for others' lists of facts on this one example.

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