Wednesday, July 16, 2008

'Allegedly,' my foot

Headline in the Salt Lake Tribune:

Arrest warrant issued for woman whose bogus tip allegedly triggered FLDS raid
"Allegedly" is a legalism originally imposed on newspapers by lawyers concerned about libel prosecutions, and since abused to the point of absurdity by media liberals afraid to call a crook a crook, implying doubt about guilt even in situations where guilt is utterly clear.

I have sometimes seen cases where, in discussing the case of a convicted murderer facing a sentencing hearing, reporters feel the need to qualify their description of the killer's crimes with "allegedly" or "according to prosecutors"! This kind of nonsense makes me want to scream:

"For the love of H.L. Mencken and all that's holy, man, this perp's been read his rights, given his day in court, tried and convicted by a jury of his peers! If they hanged him tomorrow, he'd have no cause to complain. He hacked his mother to death and was covered in her blood when the cops caught him with the bloody knife in his hand. He told the cops -- and I quote -- 'The old nag had it comin' to her.' What in God's green earth is this 'allegedly' doing in your story? Are you afraid this scum's going to get his court-appointed lawyer to sue you for defamation? Don't you think that weak-chinned weasel from the public-defenders office might be too busy trying to keep his guilty-as-sin client from riding the needle to be worried about what you write in a newspaper?"

The ridiculous overuse of "allegedly" so annoyed Wes Pruden that, during his tenure as editor of The Washington Times, he banned any variation of the word -- allege, alleged, allegedly, allegation -- from the newspaper. "Police said," or some variation thereof, was the preferred way of dealing with criminal complaints, and persons charged with crimes were "accused robbers" or "robbery suspects," etc.

This latest development in the case of Rosita Swinton -- discussed by Don Surber at some length -- highlights how prosecutors and the press sometimes cooperate in obscuring unpleasant truths.

What a reasonable person can discern about this case by careful reading of the press accounts is this:
  • Swinton, a Colorado resident who was also a pledged state Democratic convention delegate for Barack Obama, has a habit of hoax phone calls in which she pretends to be an abuse victim, for which she has been previously prosecuted.
  • At some point last year, perhaps as a result of watching an "Oprah" segment on polygamy, Swinton developed an obsessive interest in the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) -- rogue Mormons disavowed by the mainstream LDS Church -- and began devouring news accounts of the group's activities.
  • In late March, in phone calls to an Arizona activist who runs an anti-polygamy group, Swinton claimed to be an FLDS teenager named "Sarah" who was being abused in a polygamist marriage.
  • Subsequently, a Texas family-crisis hotline received similar calls, which were the basis for the search warrant that led to the raid on the El Dorado FLDS compound.
  • Texas Rangers later flew to Colorado, interrogated Swinton and conducted a search of her home.
  • The Texas child-welfare officials who conducted the El Dorado raid (and tried to put more than 400 FLDS children, including tiny infant babies, into foster care) have refused to confirm that Swinton, the known phone hoaxer, was the bogus "Sarah" named in the warrrant, or that her hoax calls were the sole basis for the warrant.
The Texas child-welfare officials obviously don't want to admit that their paramilitary raid -- employing SWAT teams with M-16s and armored personnel carriers --was the result of a hoax, since such an admission (a) would expose them as the gullible chumps they are, (b) potentially result in their unemployment, (c) might expose them to civil liability, and (d) would undermine the prosecution of whatever crimes the FLDS allegedly committed.

The clever reader will note that the original lurid tabloid-style reports about the El Dorado raid -- Virgin Teens Raped by Sick Sex Cult! -- weren't really heavy on the kind of caveats that now are used to hide the idiocy of the Texas officials allegedly duped by the alleged hoaxter, Rosita Swinton. For some reason, reporters are extending to Swinton and the Texas officials she duped a presumption of innocence that was sadly lacking when the "Sarah" affidavit was posted online.

Look, I have about as much respect for the kook theology of Mormonism as I have for Scientology or the "Heaven's Gate" suicide cult, and regard the FLDS as a kind of ultra-kook fringe for hard-core kooks who consider the more mainstream Mormon kooks as insufficiently kooky. The polygamist practices of the FLDS -- "elders" with a dozen or more wives, teen brides forced to become the fourth or fifth or 17th wife of patriarchal geezers -- are creepy beyond words.

But you know what? Welcome to America, where creepy kooks have rights, too. However creepy, kooky or indeed criminal the actions of the FLDS in Texas, they apparently weren't disturbing their neighbors or posing any threat to the larger community. If -- as now appears almost certain -- the only pretext for the raid was a hoax call from an obsessed psycho in Colorado who wasn't a Mormon and had never been within 500 miles of El Dorado, Texas, then these FLDS people are victims of government abuse, and any charges against them based on this warrant will never withstand appellate scrutiny.

A man's home is his castle, and if it so happens that his castle is a kook compound where he's keeping a harem -- hey, why doesn't somebody stage a raid on Hugh Hefner? A lot of people are upset at the idea of the teen mothers at the FLDS compound, but I've said it before and I'll say it again: Texas has the highest teen birth rate in America. If every pregnant 15-year-old in Texas is justification for a paramilitary raid, they're going to have to hire a lot more SWAT officers.

P.S.: One reason "America's Most Wanted" is my favorite show on TV is that they avoid this "allegedly" crap when dealing with criminals. John Walsh never hesitates to call a perp a "lowlife scum."

1 comment:

  1. Next, you could address the way CPS claimed they had 31 teen mothers by refusing to accept their legal documents proving their ages, so they could make it look like the FLDS community was as awful as the media was painting it? 31 turned out to be 5, and from what I understand (though I could be wrong, it's hard to keep the ages straight when there's so much misinformation) they'll all be 18 this year.