Truth Through Combat

The Difficulties of Staying Informed

It is very difficult sometimes to gain access to relevant primary documents. Take, for example, the case of Genarlow Wilson. He is a 21-year old serving a 10-year sentence for aggravated child molestation. On June 11, 2007 a judge released him from that sentence. Here is what I know and what I would like to know:

Several media organizations reported the following quotations by Judge Thomas Wilson, who issued the ruling:

  • “The fact that Genarlow Wilson has spent two years in prison for what is now classified as a misdemeanor, and without assistance from this Court, will spend eight more years in prison, is a grave miscarriage of justice.”
  • “If this court or any court cannot recognize the injustice of what has occurred here, then our court system has lost sight of the goal our judicial system has always strived to accomplish … justice being served in a fair and equal manner.”

These are strong claims by the judge (who is not related to the defendant). I would like to read the rest of the ruling, however, but it can’t be found online. This is the first challenge in being fully informed about the case.

There is one other challenge: a video was relevant in this case. It features graphic detail about the crime committed at a new year’s eve party in 2003. Apparently it shows Wilson having sex with one woman and oral sex with another. The conviction was for the oral sex — a total of ten years solely for fellatio.

This seems excessive, right? I’m sure many people are thinking that no one deserves to serve 10 years in prison without possibility of parole merely for having oral sex with a minor. But that can’t be the whole story. I need to (1) read the judge’s ruling, and (2) see the video in order to have an opinion about the justice of this sentence.

Unfortunately, these materials are not available online. So what to do? Media organizations are not willing to post these materials, so it is impossible to use news organizations as a way to be fully informed in this case. One might think that is the responsibility of news organizations, but they don’t see it that way. They think their job is to filter the raw news for those of us not smart enough to go to the original sources.

Where does this leave me? Without an opinion, actually. I can’t decide whether Genarlow Wilson should be serving 10 years, or whether Judge Wilson’s order was appropriate. The vast majority of news readers will jump on the bandwagon and agree with dismissal of the sentence, but their positions will likely be ill-informed: hardly anyone will have read Judge Wilson’s ruling and seen the relevant video.

This single case is not an anomaly. It is common for news organizations to fail their readers/viewers in these sorts of cases. Rarely do we see primary sources linked to stories, making it very difficult to stay informed.

Of course, most people will not want to see the video or read the ruling, but they will still express an opinion about the case. I dismiss them, however. You can’t have an opinion on something without seeing all of the relevant evidence. Unfortunately, this makes up the vast majority of news readers/viewers. They are too quick to form opinions based on a 300-word news story alone.

A basic principle needs to be applied here: Shut up unless you know what you’re talking about. To the press, I would say: you’re either being lazy by failing to post additional resources, or you’re assuming your readers/viewers are lazy. Both positions are unsupportable.

Filed under: Bioethics, Uncategorized

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