Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Wed May 19 15:54:34 UTC 2010

I'm not confused. Perhaps you meant Bill.

Bill is right in that neither Jewell nor Hatfill confessed, but they are
both cases where it was widely assumed that and reported as if they were in
fact guilty (in the actual, not legal sense), when in fact they both were
innocent (both actually and legally). It is the professional reportorial
discipline of not making assumptions that is important, and even more so in
high-profile cases where there is incredible pressure on both law
enforcement and journalists to get the culprit.

And no confession should be assumed to be valid until it has been proven in
a court. Confessions are retracted all the time and false confessions under
the pressure of interrogation are a well-known phenomenon.

Also, there are several layers of filters between you and the facts in this
case. There is the filter of the media. And the reporters' sources are
probably not the actual investigating officers, but rather supervisors and
public affairs officials (who have an agenda, usually benign, but an agenda
nonetheless) or others involved peripherally with the case who may or may
not have now the actual facts and situation. These filters contribute to
misreporting of facts. (Go back and read about what actually happened at
Columbine, for example, and you will be shocked at how badly the reporters
mangled--and continue to mangle to this day--the basic facts of the case;
e.g., Harris and Klebold were not members of the "trench coat mafia," their
main plan was to plant bombs (which did not detonate) and not shoot people,

Again, I have no reason to doubt this confession in particular, it's just
that false confessions and falsely assumed guilt are common enough that no
professional journalist should ever report a person's guilt until it has
been established in court. As Ron says, it's not the journalist's role to
"guess as to the outcome."

Now that I've got the off-topic rant off my chest, I'm going to drop it.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
ronbutters at AOL.COM
Sent: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 7:46 AM
Subject: Re: Legalistics

Dave, you are confusing two senses of "guilt." Legally, he has been accused
of a crime. Legally, he is not guilty until a court says so. Newspapers
report on the legal status, not the reporter's guess as to the outcome.
Consistency is necessary.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Palmer <w_a_palmer at BELLSOUTH.NET>
Date:         Wed, 19 May 2010 10:26:56
Subject:      Re: [ADS-L] Legalistics

Dave, he confessed, which I don't believe Jewell or Hatfill ever did, in
fact I know they didn't.

No media report that I know of suggests that his guilt is a law enforcement

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dave Wilton" <dave at WILTON.NET>
Sent: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 9:58 AM
Subject: Re: Legalistics

> ---------------------- Information from the mail
> header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Dave Wilton <dave at WILTON.NET>
> Subject:      Re: Legalistics
> Journalists will drop the qualifications when he has been convicted in a
> court--whether via jury verdict or plea agreement (i.e., confession in
> open
> court). The qualifications are simply a protection against libel, as well
> as
> being technically true. Just think back to Richard Jewel and the Atlanta
> Olympics bombing or Steven Hatfill and the Anthrax mailer as to why the
> qualifications are necessary.
>>There is no reason to believe he is falsely confessing.
> Really? There are lots of nuts who confess to crimes they had nothing to
> do
> with. It's not that I doubt the confession in this case, but professional
> journalists at respected media outlets get the basic facts of stories
> wrong
> on a daily basis (e.g., Judith Miller of the NYT or any news article on
> linguistics you've ever read), and it's not beyond law enforcement to
> crucify a person in the media whom they "know" to be guilty. Judging guilt
> or innocence through the filter of the media is not a reliable way to
> work.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
> Of
> Bill Palmer
> Sent: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 5:14 AM
> Subject: Legalistics
> Is there a lawyer in the house? Or a journalist?
> Faisal Shahzad has reportedly confessed to being the Times Square (almost)
> bomber.  There is no reason to believe he is falsely confessing. Yet every
> media source refers to him as either the Times Square bombing "suspect",
> or
> the "alleged" Times Square bomber.
> At what point can we drop the qualifications, and call him what he has
> confessed to being?
> Bill Palmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -


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