Do you remember the movie ‘Absence of Malice’? Sally Field as a reporter looking for any sensational story. Paul Newman as a legit businessman who is related to mobsters. The DA pressures him to roll over, and Newman uses the reporter’s quest for sensation to weave the illusion of a story, which ultimately leads to the downfall of the DA. And while all the woven fantasy stories are untrue, the paper is not held accountable because they were not acting with malice.

In the years since seeing it I’ve been saddened to see just how true it is and how reporters chafe at the bounds of what they can say when reporting what they know for sure to be true.

As a ludicrous example, this is a direct quote of a radio news report heard in albuquerque in 1988: ‘A body was found last night behind a dumpster at . The body had 3 bullet holes in it. Police suspect foul play.’

really? A trained gerbil could suspect foul play with that data. But the media can’t report it as foul play until it is officially labeled as such. So what do they do? They find other people willing to say things definitively and give them a microphone. But what recompense is there when the non reporter proves to have been wrong (if not actively lying).

Case in point, some years ago Newsweek reported that a Koran had been flushed down a toilet in Gitmo. The story was false. And Newsweek printed a retraction in their US publication. They never printed the retraction overseas, where a protest riot had resulted in the deaths of several Americans.

Now fast forward to Ferguson. With the release of the Grand Jury testimony it is clear that many of the claims made by ‘witnesses’ were false. To take the most obvious example, those that claimed Michael Brown was shot in the back. The autopsy clearly shows he was not shot in the back. Those who made that claim to the grand jury could be prosecuted for perjury (but never will be).

And what about those who showed up in the media making those false claims? The media is hog-tied about reporting ‘truth’ and is desperate for anyone who will make definitive statements they can quote. Keeps them off the hook. But with that conglomeration, we get simmering racial tensions for months that explode when trial results are announced. And, here’s the wonderful bits about humans, people insist the lies they heard in the media are true, preferring to believe the autopsy lied.

It’s a human nature thing. We’ve had time to become emotionally invested in what we’ve chosen to believe, and it hurts us to think we’ve erred and need to throw that away in favor of a different belief system.

I want to praise Michael Brown’s parents for calling for non-violence.

I want to disagree with them about calling for video recorders on every policeman. For practical reasons. If such a recording had existed in this case, it would have been sealed like all other evidence in the case, unseen by the public until the trial ends. Which means the same speculation would run rampant, the same racial tensions, the same explosion. And the same disbelief of ‘evidence’.

The people who need to be held accountable in some fashion are the media and the people spreading the provable lies.

The media prints retractions, but always buried. I believe if a lie was printed on page 1, the retraction needs to be on page 1. If it was broadcast in a certain hour of TV, the retraction airs in the same hour with the same amount of coverage.

And the ‘witnesses’? If they aren’t prosecuted for perjury they should be held forth for public scorn. The months of tension and explosions of violence can be laid directly at their feet. Name them. Showcase them. Embarrass them. Ridicule them. Maybe even bill them.

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