The movie “A Cry in the Dark”, is about how a feeding frenzy by a cynical press led to the conviction of Lindy Chamberlain for the death of her child…until the child’s blood stained clothing was found in a dingo’s den and her conviction overturned.
The Australian name for the film is “Evil Angels”, which is how the press characterized the couple as monsters and their church as a dangerous cult (they were Seventh Day Adventists). But by the end of the film, the title seems to refer to the press itself…

But things don’t change, and “a lie goes ’round the world while truth’s still putting its boots on.”

So today we see two stories of how printing unsubstantiated charges and the feeding frenzy of the press can destroy lives.

Richard Jewell had died at age 44 of complications of Diabetes.

Richard jewell was a lowly security guard who spotted a suspicious backpack at the Atlanta Olympics. His quick thinking resulted in the area being evacuated, and as a result only one person was killed when the bomb went off.

Yet when a “profiler” decided that a white male might have placed the pack, Jewell was named a suspect and hounded by news teams:

From hero to hounded suspect, with a fleet of satellite trucks outside his mother’s front door, eager to show the guilty face… show fodder, headline material and a cover villain for magazines?

Turned out, of course, he didn’t do it. But by the time everyone had agreed on that, and the chase was on for Eric Rudolph, the damage from this perfect storm of ill-placed infamy had been done.

So blessings on you, Mr. Jewell, and condolence for your family.

But Mr. Jewell’s story is not the only one in today’s papers about how the press can ruin people’s lives.

The NYTimes finally has acknowledged what the right wing blogs have known for some time: that the case against the Marines who fought in Haditha has fallen apart. The problem is a lack of evidence, and even the Times admitted that there was civilian pressure to convict the Marines for civilian deaths.
Yet it is the right wing firebrand Michelle Malkin who posts the report which explains in detail why the case fell apart. LINK1 LINK2

It is basic rules of engagement, Human rights groups are right to protest that these rules result in civilian deaths, but in a war where insurgents wear civilian clothing and hide among women and children–essentially ignoring the “rules of war”– you give the soldiers little choice.The dirty little secret is that in a war, if you hesitate, you end up dead.
But the irony is that in the long term, it doesn’t work because killing civilians makes pwople mad…you need the trust of the good people…even Sadr knows that he’d better reign in his militia after they killed a lot of civilians in the crossfire at the Karbala pilgrimage.
Michael Yon’s report on the Marines changing tactics to win over the Anbar tribes (in contrast to Alqaeda’s murderous bullying tactics) show how complicated fighting modern insurgency is, whether it be the war in Iraq or the war here in Mindanao.
Yet one has to ask: Why was the press eager to convict American soldiers before all the evidence was examined?

The accusations by Congressman Murtha allowed him to go on all the important talk shows to spread the story of US Soldiers committing mass murder…knowing that the Marines could not defend themselves in public.
Yet the press failed to mention a critical fact known to political insiders: that Murtha was using the case to bolster his standing so that he could become House Majority leader.

Even though Murtha is not exactly a well respected Washington politician (his invovement in the Abscam scandal is just one reason that Harry Reid got the Majority leader post), the press took him at his word and played up the story.

So what if a bunch of Marines and their family go through the hell of being called murderers, the story fit the template, and who cares if it might be exaggerated or wrong? We can always report their acquittal if things turn out to be false.
The only answer to this is found at the end of the movie about Lindy Chamberlain.
The cynical press essentially say, hey she’s out of jail, so why keep pressing for an acquittal instead of a pardon?
I don’t think a lot of people realise how important innocence is to innocent people. replies Michael Chamberlain.
One doubts the press, who has since gone on to the next “important” scandal, will bother to learn that lesson.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

Cross posted to Podkayne’s blog.

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