Monday, January 22, 2007

Why You Can't Believe Everything You Read In The Newspaper

A noted early-American journalist, Joseph Pulitzer, once wrote: "Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together." "An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery." "A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself." "The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations."

When Pulitzer spoke of a "cynical, mercenary, demagogic press," he must have had someone like Star editorial writer RiShawn Biddle in mind. Biddle offered some thoughts today about what is before the Indiana legislature. Speaking of one piece of legislation, HB 1459, offers these comments:


Can the supporters of the hate crimes penalities proposed in House Bill 1459 muster up evidence that gays are being murdered or assaulted at any higher rate than the rest of the population? More importantly, doesn't the laws currently on the books against murder, assault and the like already assure that those committting hate crimes will spend time in prison anyway?


If Biddle were writing propaganda for one of those religious right organizations, which often flaunts its influence in the legislature to craft laws which discriminate against minority groups like gays and lesbians, his comments would be standard fare. Unfortunately, they are words spoken by a man who is responsible for helping to formulate the Star's editorial positions. Even worse, they were words deliberately chosen by the writer to mislead the Star's readers.

Mr. Biddle suggests the legislation is being proposed because "gays are being murdered or assaulted at [a] higher rate than the rest of the population." As Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi addressed the Star's own editorial board on which Biddle sits just a week ago about the legislation's purpose, Biddle should know better, or at least bother to pick up a copy of the bill and actually read it for himself before spouting off inaccurate information about it.

Contrary to Biddle's assertion, the bill does more than allow for tougher punishments for offenders who commit crimes against a person because of their sexual orientation. It makes commission of a crime because of the color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex of the victim an aggravating circumstance that may be considered by a judge when the judge imposes a sentence for the crime. All but five states in the nation have a law similar to what is proposed by HB 1459.

The law's purpose is very simple: to combat crimes which are the direct result of a divide that exists between groups in society. Opponents always try to make the argument that such laws create "special protection" for certain groups. This is simply a false characterization of these laws. They are focused solely on the motivations of the offender, and they do not specify the race, sexual orientation, or religion of the victims. And to that latter point, they protect everyone equally.

What a hate crime law says to our citizens is that we aren't going to treat a hate crime as equal in harm to their parallel crimes. A person can commit criminal mischief by vandalizing your property on Halloween night, and a person can vandalize your property by spray-painting hate messages on your home because of your race, religion or sexual orientation. While the crime actually committed may be the same, the motivating factor behind the hate crime causes far more harm to both the victim and the neighborhood.

What HB 1459 does not do is create a separate crime. It merely adds these factors to a long list of aggravating factors the legislature has already decided in past years warrant consideration by a judge for a tougher sentence. For example, the law permits a harsher sentence if an offender committed a crime against a child, mentally handicapped person or a senior citizen, or if the offender has a prior criminal record. By contrast, this bill does not do what the legislature did last year in enacting a new law to create a felony offense for engaging in disorderly conduct within 500 feet of a funeral.

HB 1459 is also not premised on a belief that certain crimes are committed against members of a particular group in a higher percentage. Do such crimes happen? Of course, and if Biddle bothered to read the pages of his own newspaper he would know this. Brizzi's office just last year prosecuted several individuals who burned down homes on the city's near-southside because they feared they were going to be purchased by African-American families. In Terre Haute this past summer, an African-American family awoke to find the letters "KKK" burned into their front lawn. This blog detailed how armed robbers tortured and beat two Indianapolis men in their home a few years ago because the offenders believed they were gay.

These are all things Biddle could have learned if he had bothered to listen to Brizzi's presentation to the Star's editorial board, or if he had picked up a copy of the bill and performed a little research for gathering news information like a journalist is supposed to do. Instead of choosing to inform the Star's readers, he chose to engage in the cynical demogoguery Pulitzer warned against.

UPDATE: Biddle is now attempting to dig himself out of the hole he dug for himself. Click here to see for yourself. He continues to make misrepresentations about HB 1459, but I've learned from past experience that Biddle never admits to a mistake and believes he's smarter than anyone else in the room so I won't waste any more of my time on him.

20 comments:

Wilson46201 said...

Joseph Pulitzer also would have been aware of the lengthy battle started in the early 1900s by African-American activists for an Anti-Lynching Law. This legislation was opposed for decades by the most odious of legislators with the same tired arguments used today ... meanwhile people died gruesomely.

Jeff Newman said...

So RiShawn Biddle, a man of color, opposes this bill because it includes other minorities that he apparently doesn't care for, namely GLBT people?

I know he reads your blog, Gary, maybe he'll post a clarification here as to what he was trying to convey. If not, then all I can say is thank you for taking his bigoted ass to the carpet.

arnie said...

RiShawn has told me he speaks for the Stars Editorial Board. Is this the is the real shame behind this article.

Anonymous said...

RiShawn is one of the only true thinkers at The Star.

He's wrong on this one, but sometimes, he's right.

Let's cut him some slack.

And Wilson, the comparison to lynchings is way over the top.
Way. Can we dial this back down to reality?

Reps. Porter, Crawford, et al, are supporting a great bill. RiShawn is one columnisnt who's underinformed. Let's get him the information he seeks.

And if he still opposes the bill, well, he's still wrong, but he has hit some good ones out of the park.

It's a baby-and-bathwater thing, ya know?

Wilson46201 said...

Lynching was the classical and ultimate hate crime so the Anti-Lynching Bill was the specialized precursor to the current Hate Crimes legislation. The point is that the same arguments against Hate Crimes legislation have been used for over a century now by reactionaries while society is terrorized and disrupted.

Erin said...

Anon- my understanding from AI's post is that Rishawn did have all of this information presented to him by none other than Prosecutor Brizzi. The Star did full coverage of the specific fact that this legislation was one of Brizzi's top priorities this session. If Rishawn didn't understand something he had plenty of opportunity to ask questions then.

AI- thank you for the excellent explanation/post on this issue!

Final thing- as I stated to Rishawn on the Star site- if he has an issue with hate crime legislation as a whole, then that is one area where I think education/discussion can play a role. But, the flagrant misrepresentation of what HB 1459 represents is quite another thing. No one has ever suggested this legislation has anything to do with disproportionality. Address the issue on it's merits, please, instead of confusing people.

lori said...

Excellent post Gary. Rishawn is a perfect example of Joe-public. If it doesn't happen right under his nose, it doesn't exist. He needs to be confronted with this and you did it well.

Erin said...

Funny enough, the post right below Rishawn's (written by Jane Lichtensomething or other) says:

"The Star's Editorial Board just got out of a meeting with Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, who came to talk about his legislative agenda..."

She goes on to talk about the 'truth in sentencing' part of Brizzi's agenda, not hate crimes legislation. But, point being, the two posts combined present a pretty disingenuous picture of Brizzi's agenda.

arnie said...

Interesting erin, and my point exactly. So where does the star stand on this? I believe RiShawn told us.

LPerdue said...

AI, thanks for posting this. Odd to think of Biddle as a bigot, but it seems to fit.

erin said...

Arnie- Ruth Holladay is reporting that Jane (sorry, I really don't know what her last name is) and Tim Swarens are both being removed (maybe reassigned?) from the editorial page. Gives even more credence to your statement. Did Rishawn really say that? Wow.

Anonymous said...

OK, here's one more swipe at this:

RiShawn is one of the only windmill-tilters at The Star. If you don't believe it read the body of his work. Jane, Tim, et al are either drinking the Kool Aid or writing a bunch of stuff that isn't getting printed. Cause their printed stuff isn't that great.

I disagree with RiShawn almost half the time. But his writing is crisp and sharp. He makes me think. I'm pretty sure he and Matt Tulley agree on almost nothing, obviously including work ethic, so that is a gold star in my book.

Why are we so obsessed with 100% agreement on these issues? Can't we listen to those with whom we disagree, learn from their arguments, and move on?

I learned form RiShawn's post, that he's woefully under-informed on hate crimes. I view that as an opportunity.

And he's representative of a lot of people.

His race, frankly, is a non-issue to me. Ignorance knows no racial boundary.

The hate crime bill is great. To get it passed through the Senate, the House authors are going to have to do a lot of listening and altering. Maybe, at some point, they'll conclude they have compromised enough and cannot compromise any more. They're smart reps, and I trust their judgment.

And the public debate is serious enough that there just isn't room for hyperbole and lynching references. Alarm-bell phrases don't do anything to gain support.

Anonymous said...

RiShawn has no credibility with me. Several times he has written things on which he did not bother to check the facts or the law. He has also played the race card without stopping to think what the real situations were. He is dumbing-down the public rather than helping to educate.

erin said...

Since apparently Rishawn wishes to respond to my legitimate question to him on the Expresso page by referencing this blog- Rishawn, answer the question that I posed to you instead of doing your usual condescending routine. Why do you feel that disproportionality is the issue addressed when no one has argued that red herring?

lori said...

He calls the response to his post "histronics" and then tells us that we hurt our cause because we stand up for ourselves. Another page taken from the religious right. Typical. (yawn)

Wilson46201 said...

histrionics? Just goes to show how ditzy and flamboyant queens are ... glitter and be gay!

Becky said...

RiShawn Biddle is a good example of what's wrong with the Star.
He doesn't check out his so-called "facts". I had a specific incident several months ago and after pointing out his error, not only was my comments not printed, but his entire Expresso article disappeared. Not until I complained to Ryerson did it reappear with my comments.

Wilson46201 said...

I just read RiShawn's lengthy riposte - it looks like I hurt poor Ike's feelings by repeatedly pointing out his pandering for the LGBT vote but then his flip-flopping and voing twice against us. My repeated highlighting seems to have bothered Mr. Biddle's idea of decorum. Ike Randolph was a lying snake who shouldn't be trusted by any voters whatsoever based on that obvious and egregious flip-flop.

Anonymous said...

When you're rigiht, Wilson, you're right.

Ike is a snake.

Anonymous said...

rGary, when I tried to tell you a few months ago that a Star article which claimed someone said they were targeted because they were black was not true, you argued back with me that it had to be true if the Star said it was. The Star was wrong, it misrepresented statements from the interview.

Glad you now 'get it' that one can't believe everything one reads in the newspaper.