Accuracy in Media

As a media critic, nothing is more satisfying than to see people respond to trash in the media with their own letters of complaint. One such piece of trash was a January 17 front page story by Wil Haygood of the Washington Post celebrating the release from prison of a so-called “prison journalist,” a confessed killer named Wilbert Rideau.

To the credit of the Post, two excellent letters to the editors were published about this atrocity. This probably means that many more letters of protest were received. One, Michael Steinberg of Bethesda, Maryland, said, “I am puzzled by Wil Haygood’s story celebrating the release from prison of Wilbert Rideau. In 1961, Rideau robbed a bank at gunpoint, took three hostages, shot them all and then stabbed one to death. He was tried for murder three times, convicted each time and sentenced to death. But each sentence was overturned, until this month he was convicted of manslaughter instead and freed. Rideau does not deny his guilt. But for Haygood, the case isn’t about guilt or innocence. He sees the case as ‘a decades-long ordeal for a man who had gained fame as a prison journalist.’ This is where I get confused. Shouldn’t anyone who kills and robs expect his life to be an ‘ordeal’? Isn’t that how we deter crime and punish criminals? Killers-turned-journalists are still killers, aren’t they?”

The letter writer had it exactly right. But he may not be aware that swooning over criminals is something that journalists ? and Hollywood celebrities-occasionally do. I recently noted that Dotty Lynch of CBS News had written a column attacking the prosecutors and jury in the Scott Peterson double-murder case. Lynch felt that Peterson was the victim of an emotional and misinformed jury manipulated by overzealous prosecutors. She thinks Peterson was convicted and sentenced to death because he was a liar and adulterer.

In the case of Wilbert Rideau, there was no question about his guilt. He also admitted the murder. But because he wrote articles in prison, he was transformed by the media into a “prison journalist” who had been rehabilitated and deserved to be freed.

Another letter-writer, Steven K. Hall of Fredericksburg, Virginia, responded, “I thought I had read it all by the liberal writers of The Post.” He called the front-page story about Rideau “the most offensive article I have ever read.”

He explained, “Haygood glorifies and makes a martyr of Wilbert Rideau. All Rideau did was rob a bank, kidnap three people, hold them hostage, shoot all three and finally stab one to death. Where is the compassion for the victims and their families? Rideau freely admits that he committed the crimes, yet where is his remorse? Nowhere in the article does he say he is sorry for his actions. He even tries to put a spin on the death, saying it was a “killing” and not a “murder.” There is only minimal response to Rideau’s actions from the victims’ families. Rideau said he ‘had no choice’ that day, but we all have choices. It’s almost as if he is blaming his victims for his actions.”

Steven Hall went on to say, “Yes, Rideau is black, but that does not excuse his actions that day. All the talk about the jury and trials does not exclude the fact that he is guilty of the crimes. All of the people who oppose the death penalty and try to retroactively apply ‘social justice’ to this and other crimes such as this would probably think differently if it was their mother, wife, husband, father or other loved one who perished that day.”

Mr. Hall touches on the key reason why the Post believed that it could get away with such an atrocious story. The killer, Rideau, was black, and the dead victim was white. Because he was black, he was viewed as a victim of society, as someone who had no other alternative than to maim and kill. As he himself insisted, he was somehow forced into this life of crime by society. Taking advantage of prison life, he managed to create an image for himself as a thoughtful “prison journalist” who deserved to be back out on the streets. The media were eagerly taken in.

If the victim had been black and the killer white, the Post would never have written such a story. And that shows that the disease of political correctness infects the media even in matters of crime and punishment, life and death.

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