Saturday, March 22, 2008

Compassion


I was reading a news report yesterday about a child pornography sting that resulted in a number of arrests. The report came with a video of the accused being walked by the police to a paddywagon, presumably to be taken to jail. The alleged perpetrators were walked past a gaggle of reporters and TV cameras.

Some of the reporters participating in this “perp walk” (as these staged events are known) were shouting things like, “People think you’re the scum of the earth right now. What do you have to say?” They asked the accused if they’d molested family members, and if anyone professed innocence, the reporters pressed on in a tone that suggested they believed otherwise.

One of the people arrested was a 17-year-old kid. He (unwisely) said he’d downloaded the porn, but it had been a mistake.

Now, I am not about to argue on behalf of child porn or its consumers. I’m sure it’s more disgusting than I could imagine.

But this video, and the questions that came from some of these reporters, really angered me. It’s one thing to ask, “Did you do it? Are you guilty? Do you look at child porn?” It’s quite another to ask, “Aren’t you really the scum of the earth? Do you touch your sisters?”

When did my profession, and our society, became so luridly cruel? Why do we enjoy watching public humiliation, verbal stoning? When did we become so averse to compassion, even for those who violate our most basic social codes and morals?

Do the guys in this video deserve punishment? Absolutely. If they’re found guilty -- and they haven’t been yet.

But I don’t think they deserved the treatment they received from those news crews. The reporters need to ask themselves: Are they really reporting the news? Or are they merely whipping their audience into an angry vigilante frenzy? Is it their job to morally judge the people they cover?

Note: I don’t mean to implicate the paper in which this appeared. I have no way of knowing whose reporters were asking these questions.

(Photo: Red Hook, Brooklyn, Feb. 2008)

4 comments:

Reya Mellicker said...

When did my profession, and our society, became so luridly cruel? Why do we enjoy watching public humiliation, verbal stoning? When did we become so averse to compassion, even for those who violate our most basic social codes and morals?

I think it's instinctual behavior. People have always loved watching a gory fight, beheadings, public humiliations (like the stocks, for instance) and various forms of torture.

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you. At least that's what my mother used to say. At least the reporters weren't throwing actual stones. Their behavior was exceedingly rude, and ... base. Is that the word. Devolved, down to the brainstem, no consciousness at work there, oh no.

J. David Zacko-Smith said...

I agree with Reya - plus it all comes down to what sells . . . . and trash sells. The trashier the better. Right or wrong, your profession is simply filling a demand. It's our SOCIETY that's got it wrong.

R.L. Bourges said...

"vigilante frenzy" is the word. There was a horrible miscarriage of justice here in France where several people spent years in jail following false accusations of sexual abuse on children. Cruelty sells - whether the cruelty inflicted on children exploited for the gratification of adults or the cruelty you describe. As one copy editor once shrugged to me after his paper had filed a "factually incorrect" paper on my boss: "so? we'll do a second story with your version."

smoss said...

Have you read Foucault? He wrote "Discipline and Punish." I agree w/your take, and these people are only "alleged" to have committed the crime. But Foucault talks about how the public "Perp Walk" to the public lynching has been a part of culture and maybe is better than "quietly" taking people away.

Funny I just checked Wikipedia on Foucault, the picture of Foucault looks a bit like you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Foucault