Saturday, October 3, 2009

UPDATE on the Kentucky Killing: 'We Don't Even Know What We Don't Know'

Because law enforcement officials are being extremely circumspect in discussing the death of Bill Sparkman -- whose nude body was found Sept. 12 in the Hoskins family cemetery near Arnetts Fork Road in Clay County, Ky. -- the absence of information has led to extremely irresponsible speculation.

I'm working on a very long, detailed account of the case based on my trip to Kentucky, but I had to lay that aside for a while today when I saw a grossly misleading story in Newsweek. This prompted me to whip out a quick 861 words for The American Spectator:
"He knocked on the wrong door," was the way one resident described what most locals familiar with the case consider the most likely scenario for Sparkman's killing. As the Newseek story notes, eastern Kentucky is known as a haven of marijuana growers. The weed growers plant their crops in Daniel Boone National Forest, which sprawls across the mountainous region and encompasses half of Clay County.
What would be proven if we knew (as we do not) that Sparkman was engaged in Census work at the time of his disappearance -- most likely Sept. 9, three days before his body was discovered in the Hoskins family cemetery some 30 miles east of his home -- and "knocked on the wrong door"?
If the fatal door he knocked on was at the home of a marijuana grower or a drug dealer (methamphetamine and other drugs are also problems in the region), who killed him after mistaking Sparkman's federal identification as evidence that the stranger was a narcotics agent, is that an "anti-government" or "anti-Census" motive? Or is it merely a criminal seeking to prevent detection of his crimes -- the kind of killing that happens with unfortunate frequency in America all the time?
That, however, is strictly a hypothetical scenario. The haste of some journalists and bloggers to attribute Sparkman's mysterious death to a particular motive -- to give it a political meaning -- based on speculation and assumptions, is irresponsible in the extreme. . . .
Read the whole thing. A smart reporter never burns his sources, so I can't identify the Kentucky journalist who this past week exclaimed to me in exasperation: "We don't know anything. Hell, we don't even know what we don't know."

Which is why it was perhaps a fortunate coincidence that a "top Hayekian public intellectual" drove more than 500 miles to spend three days gathering information about the Sparkman case. Students of Friedrich Hayek know how the Nobel Prize-winning economist emphasized that information is diffused widely among the population, so that no "expert" or group of experts can ever claim to have complete knowledge in any given field. The failure of intellectuals to recognize the limits of their own expertise leads to harmful preconceptions and myths, as Greg Ransom has explained.

The Hayekian insight has utility far beyond the field of economics. Appreciating the value of unknown facts -- information beyond our immediate knowledge, which may actually be more important than the facts we do know -- is essential to a genuinely objective pursuit of truth.

The lazy assumption that we know all we need to know, that there cannot be any unknown facts that contradict the beliefs we form on the basis of partial information, is the basis of far too many mistaken beliefs. I've already reported how stereotypes of rural Kentuckians as backward, ignorant and impoverished have resulted in a misleading portrayal of the decent, hard-working, law-abiding citizens of Clay County. (Let's don't even get into the Kelsee Brown angle.) And now we see how a too-eager desire to cast Bill Sparkman's death as a political symbol is leading to assumptions that may be equally misinformed.

It's a free country, which means everyone is free to speculate how and why Bill Sparkman died. But ill-informed speculation and assumptions are no substitute for facts, and there are still too many unknown facts for anyone to pretend to know the motives of whoever put Sparkman's body in that cemetery.

If the editors of Newsweek don't want to pay for solid, sensible, accurate reporting, they need to grab themselves a fresh, hot cup of delicious STFU.

Hit the tip jar, y'all. My wife won't like this one bit, but if I can collect another $500 in the Shoe Leather Reporting Fund, I'll go back to Kentucky and keep after this story until folks in Clay County award me honorary hillbilly status.

UPDATE: Jimmie Bise at Sundries Shack calls the Newsweek story "Another Steaming Pile of MSM Journalism," and we've got ourselves a Rule 3 opportunity with a Memeorandum thread.

UPDATE II: Yehuda the Rhetorican:
Newsweek -- like much of the Legacy Media -- needs to become re-acquainted with the importance of shoe leather to quality journalism. And I don’t mean it needs a kick in the @$$, although it certainly does.
Speaking of which, how about some kicking rock 'n' roll?

UPDATE III: Linked in Left Coast Rebel's roundup and . . . Well, the Tampa Tribune had an interesting profile of Bill Sparkman. I didn't want to "go there," but as Dan Riehl points out, the speculation that Sparkman was gay has been bouncing around all over the 'sphere for days. Dan e-mailed to mention this to me, and I replied that many people in Clay and Laurel counties suspected that, at the very least, Sparkman had homosexual tendencies. NTTAWWT.

As I told Dan, the problem is that we have no idea whether Sparkman's sexuality (whatever it was, and all I know is what people in Kentucky told me) had anything to do with his disappearance and death. It might be relevant or not. At any rate, that Tampa story is full of very strong suggestions that my Kentucky sources have reasonbly accurate "gaydar."

We await Andrew Sullivan's next hysterical post claiming that Sparkman was a victim of hillbilly homophobia.

UPDATE IV: Paco points out exactly why the Newsweek story sticks in my craw: While I'm driving more than 1,300 round-trip in a 2004 KIA to report this story, Eve Conant gets paid a full-time salary to sit around writing a 1,700-word essay that concludes:
The Census Bureau field-training manual advises employees on everything from walking only in lighted areas to staying away from political issues, especially when someone is hostile: "Do not defend yourself or the government with respondents who say they hate you and all government employees. Indicate that you regret this opinion and express a desire to provide them with a positive experience." Perhaps Bill Sparkman wasn't given the time to follow that sage advice.
Perhaps. And perhaps the staff of Newsweek could take up a collection at their office, so they could buy a clue as to why they're losing credibility.

UPDATE V: Speaking of "losing credibility," Charles Johnson and the few remaining unbanned denizens of LGF Lizardland are going bonkers over Dan Riehl and "the ghey."

Thanks to Bob Belevedere for his latest aggregation.


  1. And I thought the stalemate in the case was that in Kentucky, their CSI amounted to a bloodhound, duct tape and guy named Clem. As far as contradictions go, if you find one, just check your premises as they are wrong.

  2. Working on it Stacy. Payday is soon.

  3. How Sparkman died is important and interesting in its own right, but in a way it's not relevant to the discussion taking place about the Census.

    Some reasons why at my blog:


  4. Quoted from and linked to at: THE DEATH OF BILL SPARKMAN V where I ask the following important questions:

    Has Stacy failed? Was all of the money added to his damn tip jar wasted? If you know Stacy you know he didn't take any of this lying down [he only does that when interviewing nineteen year old Kentucky gals, from what I hear].

  5. @Bob,
    For purely platonic, journalistic reasons, one hastens to note.

  6. No, Bob, I don't "take it lying down." Sometimes I may give it lying down, but . . .


  7. What I don't understand about this case is why the body was found so easily. Since the body is likely to have the most evidence most murderers try to hide the bodies. Usually not very well but there are actually a LOT of folks buried, sunk and gotten rid of in other ingenious ways.

    I've only been through Kentucky twice, there and back a lot of years ago, used to have a lot of woods and such, lots of places for a nice, deep unmarked grave. So, why so easy to find?

  8. well, here in california, most dea types in the hills pretend to be us geological survey geologists, to the point where anyone carrying a rock hammer is liable to be shot at...ask any real usgs guy or prospector how he feels about that bit of govt tomfoolery.