Buzz and I don't watch much on network television, especially the so called news magazine shows. We do watch network sporting events. (Buzz, although, is still reeling from his pick of a Stephen F. Austin/Robert Morris NCAA men's basketball final. Damn that new Atari computer. Buzz is going back to the UNIVAC 3000.) We find that the major networks' shows are a little too simplistic for our tastes and cater to sensationalism and the lowest common denominator. Last night our beliefs were confirmed.
Like many people in NEPA, we watched the 20/20 report on former Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan. What we saw was sensationalism at its best.
From the title of the report "Kids for Cash" to the eerie music to the "ambushing of the bad guy" to the self serving statements of the parents and the kids to shock jock wannabe Steve Corbett to the breaking down of the judge who was investigating, the report seemed to be "National Enquirer TV."
Whatever happened to fair and objective reporting without the gratuitous exaggerations and and self righteous editorial comments? We are by no means justifying or codoning the actions of Ciavarella or Conahan. What they did was ethically wrong and criminal, but the quid pro quo of "kids for cash" simply did not exist.
20/20 reporter Jim Avila was the biggest violator of objective journalism. Here are some of his quotes: Judges got "rich on the backs of children," "secretly on the take," "absurdly swift justice," "a diabolical plan," "a diabolical pattern," "devised a scheme to pad their pockets on the backs of children," juvenile center "built by the judge's cronies," "judge's spent their dirty money," "sold kids down the river," and "kids were languishing in juvenile jails." Hardly the language used by objective investigative journalists in the mold of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.
In addition to Avila's lack of objectivity, we had two particular inflammatory quotes which tickled our fancy. Shock jock wannabe Steve Corbett of WILK radio referred to Conahan and Civarella as "gangster judges were selling children into a prison camp." Corbett's quote is just emblematic of his radio schtick, where he plays of role of the "holier than thou" outraged "mad as hell" citizen.
Marsha Levick, of the Juvenile Law Center referred to the case as "probably the most egregious abuse of power in the history of the American legal system." Apparently, Levick is not a student of history, having forgotten the judicially approved enslavement of millions of African Americans and the internment of thousands Japanese Americans during World War II.
One factor that seems to be forgotten during this whole affair is the fact that in every single juvenile case, there was a police officer who charged the juvenile and an assitant district attorney who prosecuted the case present in the court room. If the juvenile shouldn't have been charged, why did the police officer charge the juvenile? If the case shouldn't have been prosecuted, why did the district attorney's office bring the prosecution? Police officers and prosecutors' duty is to prosecute crimes, not to put people in jail. Where was the outrage from them when "innocent" children were locked up?
OVC knows that if a certain judge, who will remain nameless, were assigned to juvenile court instead of Ciavarella, his incarceration rate would have made Ciavarella look like a bleeding heart liberal.
Ciavarella and Conahan deserve to be criminally prosecuted, but not for "kids for cash." They deserve to be prosecuted for taking money for the building of a juvenile center. There's the actus rea for which they are culpable.
What troubles us the most is that in the vast net that has been cast in this matter, juveniles who deserved to be incarcerated will benefit from a few eggregious examples of wrongly incarcerrated juveniles. Don't be fooled by the self serving statements of juveniles and their parents who have minimized some of the juvenile's culpability. Ciavarella's criminal actions do not vindicate every juvenile who appeared before him.
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