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Journalistic Ethics Week, Part 1: Nausea, or the (Attempted) Rehabilitation of Anthony Sowell

Stop the presses! It’s journalistic ethics week, and so perhaps it’s fitting that this first story plopped down in a big steaming mess on the pages of every newspaper that carries the AP.

Anthony Sowell, who was recently found knee-deep in the decaying bodies of his victims, doesn’t deserve to be labeled a rapist, according to the AP.

The fawning press, which was understandably having a real hard time finding a way to squeeze Sowell into the role of “the only real victim here,” has now achieved its goal, if only in a tiny, biased, misrepresentation-of-a-technicality way:

STORY REMOVED: US–Rapist’s Home-Bodies

CLEVELAND — The Associated Press has withdrawn its story about a sex offender who lived in a Cleveland house where several corpses were found. Authorities say that despite a police news release that described Anthony Sowell as a convicted rapist, he was convicted only of attempted rape. The story will be refiled as CLEVELAND-BODIES FOUND.

How brave of them.  How . . . edgy.  Of course, this little grandstand doesn’t mean anything legally.  Or ethically.  Or rationally.  It is simply a piquant demonstration of the entirely consensual, sado-masochistic relationship that exists between the defense bar and the fourth estate.

Sowell is a convicted sex offender.  Attempted rape is a sex crime.  If they’re going to split the infinitive, as it were, why not change the headline to “US –Sex Offender’s Home — Bodies Found.”  But no!  That might affect his self-esteem, or cause him PTSD or something.

And you know, it’s all about the killer’s self-esteem these days.  If we spent more time focusing on their needs, they wouldn’t need to kill so many people to express themselves.

In addition to actually being a convicted sex offender, Sowell is also an accused sex offender, if the women who escaped him recently are to be believed.

But why should the journalists believe them?  Why should they take the word of mere crime victims over the word of somebody who gets his rocks off strangling women to death?  Hell, if they start doing that, it will take a tiny bit of the fun out of death row defense, and then what will Hollywood make courageous movies about?

No, it’s far, far more principled to treat those women like the degraded slags they are.

Oh, wait, is someone suggesting that these women aren’t degraded slags?  But that’s what the AP said:

Hunting from home may have been easier because of the marginal lives led by Sowell’s alleged victims. All four of the Cleveland women identified until now battled addiction in their lives.

Have any of these women been convicted for substance abuse crimes?  Did they really all agree to accompany him voluntarily to his home?  Or were they only alleged substance abusers?  This is second-hand information, after all.  How, precisely, do you define “marginal”?  Will the AP issue a retraction if it turns out that, upon further jurisprudential-ly investigation, these women were only former substance abusers, or were not abusing substances when Sowell grabbed them, or did not have criminal records and therefore must above all not be labeled wrongly in the fake-pine paneled, dimly lit basement that passes for journalistic ethics these days?

But who cares about the victims, really?  Journalism is all about rehabilitating the offender.  Behaving as if the victims are human beings entitled to the same rights as those who kill, either in the courts or on the pages of the fishwrappers that fancy themselves courts is so . . . Lifetime.

In reality, in 1989, Sowell only pled to attempted rape to gain a reduction in charges for rape and kidnapping. The victim, who was pregnant at the time of the attack, had actually been kidnapped, bound, gagged and raped (thank you, Cleveland Plain Dealer, for bothering to get it right).  If the AP is so pointillistically hellbent on offering a legally accurate record of events, then why take out all mention of sex crime?  The plea was a legal fiction, a technique that a guilty man used in order to shorten his sentence as much as possible.  It slotted Sowell into a sentence in exchange for admitting to a lesser crime, but it did not create forensic or legal proof that the rape was only “attempted.”

Too bad these types of facts don’t matter in the ethical universe of the AP.

I wonder if DNA still exists from that case.  Perhaps, if the police could offer the legal vigilantistas in the media proof of precisely where Sowell’s penis went after he kidnapped, bound, and gagged a woman — you know, like cradling the skull of a Pot Pol victim, or sifting through the final hours of the Argentinian disappeared — they might see the error of their ways.

But I doubt that would be the outcome.  Retractions are for sex offenders, not their victims.  It’s simply too long a stretch from crudely cleansing Sowell’s record of any mention of sex crime to accurate reporting.

First, you have to want to change.

The nauseating spectacle of AP editors rushing to make an unnecessary correction that turns into a literal denial of the facts of Sowell’s previous conviction is actually a perfect metaphor for what the media has become, and I don’t make this accusation lightly: the media has become a tool for denying the reality of crime.  And like all official deniers and court-propagandists, their ugliest excesses arise from the degree that they believe their own lies and omissions: exactly none of the newspapers that ran this AP “retraction” simultaneously bothered to explore its legal accuracy, or significance, or revisit the documents from the court case.

And so they all march lockstep, all trampling the experience of the woman who was brave enough to survive Sowell’s attack 20 years ago, denying her rape, treating her like human garbage, just as Sowell treated his victims.

One Response to Journalistic Ethics Week, Part 1: Nausea, or the (Attempted) Rehabilitation of Anthony Sowell

  1. Pingback: Taking Pretty Pictures of Anthony Sowell’s Brain: The Real Reason The Justice System’s Broke « Crime Victims Media Report

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