Thursday, May 14, 2015

The presumption of innocence vs. prejudicial publicity


The St. Augustine Record again showed its loutish side when it ran a huge banner headline three days in a row -- yesterday's was gigantic.
It called St. Johns County Commissioner WILLIAM McCLURE a "fugitive," based on quotes from St. Johns County Sheriff DAVID BERNARD SHOAR (who sought to cover up the September 2, 2010 shooting of Michelle O'Connell, now subject of an FBI and Special Prosecutor investigation).
McCLURE is charged with stealing $500 from his ex-girlfriend and ex-partner in three businesses.
McCLURE has defenses, which, if true, would result in charges being dismissed.
The Record has been known to use salacious headlines in the past, including salacious headlines about me, containing information that turned out to be inaccurate.
The Record is lacking in journalistic standards.
If McCLURE is acquitted, he has a potential lawsuit against the complaining victim.
He also has a potential lawsuit against Sheriff SHOAR and the Record. Actual malice? Willful disregard of the truth.
Let justice be done, whatever that might be.
I am reminded of my early days as a journalist in East Tennessee, where I had the run of the DA's office and regularly watched trials and preliminary hearings in the courtrooms of James B. "Buddy" Scott, Jr. (Circuit Court Judge), his brother-in-law, Alan V. Kidwell (Chancellor) and Jennings Bryan Meredith (Trial Justice Court Judge)
I saw justice being done (sometimes) on a regular basis.
I saw plea bargains being negotiated between prosecutors and defense attorneys in the DA's office (few attorneys mindeed my watching their talking about their clients.
Our putative newspaper competitors provided their readers with inept news coverage of the criminal injustice system.
They provided only rare coverage of civil trials.
Our competitors were three dailies and one weekly. The weekly and one daily were then locally-owned (The Clinton Courier-News and the Oak Ridger). Two dailies were chain-owned, Knoxville News Sentinel (Scripps-Howard) and Knoxville Journal (Gannett). The CCN was owned by Horace V. Wells, Jr. (the "Dean of Tennessee Journalism"), who was courageous on desegregation in the 1950s BUT coddled corrupt public officials and associated criminals in the 1980s, including later-convicted and incarcerated Anderson County Sheriff DENNIS O. TROTTER (twice Tennessee "Sheriff of the Year," whom Wells falsely claimed was the subject of a "No True Bill," when there is no such critter under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
These four horsemen of mediocrity deprived readers of their just due -- meaningful information.
At the Appalachian Observer, we called it "chain gang journalism," named after the newspaper chains that owned and controlled daily newspapers in our area.
This "chain gang journalism" is stultifying.
Whether in Appalachia or here in St. Augustine.

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