[Vision2020] Crime Reporting & Fairness

Ted Moffett starbliss at gmail.com
Fri Apr 21 11:20:35 PDT 2006

Chas et. al.

I agree that there are serious ethical problems with the practice of making
public the identity of someone charged with many crimes that carry a severe
stigma, when the person may be innocent.  This can seriously damage a
person's life and livelihood, even if proved innocent in a court.

However, how would the identity of person's charged with crimes be kept
secret?  Would the publishing of their identity by private media
be forbidden?  So what if the Latah Sheriff Dept. maintains anonymity for
those accused, if the Daily News plasters their name in headlines?  Law
enforcement could adopt a policy of not releasing the identity of those
facing charges, but trial's also would have to be closed to the public.

Perhaps a waiting period for making public the identity of those who
face criminal charges or arrest would allow for a more definite
determination of the validity of the charges before potentially ruining
someones reputation over a mistake.

Also, keeping secret the identity of those charged and/or jailed
might result in law enforcement abusing their power.  With no public
scrutiny of who is being charged and/or jailed for what crime, the jailers,
etc. might feel less compunction or fear of consequences if they took the
law into their own hands, as we say.  The secret jailing of individuals is
often characteristic of a police state (Gitmo, for example), so this is one
problem with adopting this policy.

A difficult issue, no matter how you view it...

Innocent individuals have had their life ruined over false criminal charges
and/or arrest.  I don't think anyone thinks this is a fair and ethical
outcome, but a solution to these examples of injustice is not as easy as it
might seem, especially when we live in a media obsessed cultural environment
that thrives on the public's twisted (pathological?)fascination with
sensationalized crimes.  One leak to the media that someone is under
investigation, much less arrested and charged, and we're off to the races.

Someones reputation can be ruined on a national level overnight.  Remember
the case of the Atlantic Olympics park bombing that the media suggested
might have been committed by Richard Jewell?  He was not even arrested for
the crime, but his reputation was seriously impacted by all the


Sometimes tearful, Jewell went on to criticize both the FBI and the news
media for how his case was handled. He said the FBI latched onto him "in its
rush to show the world it could get its man." He also said the news media
distorted his background to show he fit the profile of a bomber. "Let the
headline be based on the facts," he told them. "Don't shape the facts to fit
the headline."

Contrary to previous suspicions about him, Jewell claimed he had never
sought the limelight of heroism on the night of the bombing. "I set out to
do my job," he stated firmly, "and do it right."

In August 1997 Attorney General Reno publicly apologized to Jewell and
deplored the leak to the media that made his name known as a suspect. "I
regret very much the leak that made him an object of so much public
attention," Reno commented. "I don't think any apology is sufficient when
somebody has gone through . . . what Mr. Jewell has gone through."
If I hear about Natalee Hollowway one more time...

Ted Moffett

On 4/21/06, Chasuk <chasuk at gmail.com> wrote:
> On 4/21/06, Jennifer McFarland <jmcfarland at latah.id.us> wrote:
> >  Arrest records are a matter of public record.
> I understand.  However, I differentiate whether something is legal
> (and according to procedure), and actually ethical.  Personally, for
> reasons I've already given, I don't consider it ethical to reveal the
> name of the accused for crimes of this nature.  It is this that I was
> drawing attention to, not legalistic propriety or accepted practice.
> Incidentally, I realize that you are acting as the messenger here;
> thank you very much for providing this service.  I just have qualms
> that such revelations occur, not your particular role.
> Cheers,
> Chas
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