Monday, June 12, 2006

19th-century editorial of the year

We've been glancing back at this one for a couple of days and wondering whether to work in a comment. It's sort of like what happens when the neighbors paint their house purple: You look at it in the evening and wonder if you're really seeing it, then you look at it again in the morning to see if it somehow went back to normal overnight. Usually it hasn't.

So here's the best imitation of 19th-century thinking that's reached the manor in this still-young century, presented in its entirety (if you want to check the link, ignore the other edits and scroll down, unless it hadn't already occurred to you that Zarqawi was a pretty bad character*):

Not all sex offenders look as mean as Jerry Inman
If you tried to imagine what a convicted sex offender looks like, you might well come up with a mental image of someone like Jerry Buck Inman. He's the registered sex offender charged with strangling 20-year-old Clemson University student Tiffany Marie Souers of Ladue, Mo.

He's skin-headed, beetle-browed, thin-lipped and covered in tattoos. In his police mug shot, he stares at the camera with what looks like defiance. His record: a lifetime of crime.

But don't be misled into thinking a sex offender who doesn't look like Mr. Inman can't possibly be a sex offender. The sad truth is that molesters and rapists tend to look like everyday people. They can be bankers or construction workers, coaches or Sunday School teachers. Some are parents or relatives of their victims.

Just as the justice system warns us not to assume anyone who looks guilty is (although police do say Mr. Inman admitted the murder), we should also remember the reverse: Not looking like someone's idea of a criminal is no proof of innocence.

That's really so remarkably stupid it doesn't need commentary. But just in case:
1) Let's close our eyes and imagine what a "convicted sex offender" might have looked like if an editorial writer at this paper imagined him 50 or 60 or 70 years ago (BIG HINT: Think of the "sex offender" in Birth of a Nation). Now read the lede again. Now read the second graf, substituting your own modifiers as suggested by your experience with antediluvianism** -- "thick-lipped" for "thin-lipped," for example.
2) Write a brief summary of the paper's attitude toward stereotypes. You've probably noticed that the paper thinks cultural stereotypes based on appearance are a pretty good idea, and you're right! But there's more!
3) Right. Stereotypes are good, but they aren't enough! (Ignore the logic of the sentence for a second. It's warning us not to think that a sex offender can't be a sex offender, but copy editors are trained to look past ineptly applied modifying phrases and into a sentence's soul.) "The sad truth is that molesters and rapists tend to look like everyday people. They can be bankers or construction workers, coaches or Sunday School teachers." Or, in English: "Everyday people" look like Observer editorial writers. Bankers and Sunday school teachers never have shaved heads; construction workers and coaches never have tattoos. And they certainly wouldn't have a hint of defiance when looking at the jailhouse camera, no sir.

And that distinguishes our editorial from D.W Griffith in which specific ways again?

OK, let's be fair. Our editorial grants that a crime suspect might, maybe, sometimes be innocent even if he "looks guilty" (though if the cops say he's confessed, no problem). But the real point comes at the end: Not looking like someone's idea of a criminal is no proof of innocence.

How should we break it to these guys? (More to the point, how do we prove it to foamy-mouthed readers who sometimes mistake this paper for one with a lingering interest in civil liberties?). Erm, news flash. This is America. Innocence isn't something you have to prove. Even if you look a little different from an Observer editorial writer.

It'd be nice if there was an encouraging lesson for copyeds in here, but I doubt it. Still, somebody ought to be embarrassed. A lot.

* Right. And if your next question is why we have editorials if they're generally not much smarter than unusually bright garden slugs, you have a good question.
** Thank you, Central Ohio Bureau.


Blogger The Mighty Kat said...

Hello Fev,

I work for the publishers of Far from the Madding Gerund and would like to run something by you. Would you please give me a way to reach you? Thanks-
kat at mightykat .net

12:39 PM, June 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

omg! Are blogs-into-books a trend? Could our hero be lured by lucre into creating "HEADSUP: The Book"? Or making a guest appearance in "Son of FFTMG"? Jump and jump fast, before the conclusions can get away!
(Sorry. None of my beeswax, but I couldn't resist.)

7:48 PM, June 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If fev were to be rich and famous, that would indicate some justice in the world and thereby wreck my prevailing opinion of same.

Actually, I too have a question for the desk: I think from now on we should be referring to a certain politician as "Rep Patrick Kennedy (D-UI)"

On related matter, I have been honestly shocked at the number of people who have emailed to let me know that JJ Reddick has been arrested on the same charge. As I sat up on the roof last night watching a firefight between IPs and the Sadr Militia, I was glad to be informed of this important issue.

Reporting from Baghdad, I remain,

yr obt servant


3:00 AM, June 14, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

Hey, lucre works. I mean, I've heard it does. Anybody wants to appply some of it to these seven years of headsup-the-Listserv we have piling up here, let me know.

Stay tuned for publications out this fall, tho, if you're interested in slightly-off-track questions about how newspapers act in wars.

12:36 AM, June 15, 2006  

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