Before Running at the Mouth, Try to Know What You’re Talking About

"It is better that ten guilty men go free than that one innocent man be convicted." – William Blackstone


You know, I screwed up on April 15. I broke one of my own important rules, and I speculated about something important.

Speculation isn't bad when it's between good friends at a party. But I Tweet publicly, and what I say seems to create a reaction from people. Basically, what I said was that I thought the Boston Marathon bomber was probably an extreme right winger. I immediately walked it back, saying that it was just my first impression, and first impressions are usually wrong, but there it was. It was out there. I considered deleting the Tweet, but I generally only do that when I misspell something, and I follow it up with a corrected Tweet. 

I usually have no use for things like that, and I chided myself for it. But I realized my mistake almost immediately, became defensive about it, and when the perpetrators were identified, I issued a public apology. I would love to say I'll never do it again, but I'm human, I have emotions, and I am not perfect. I will try, however.  

I don't mean to sound conceited, but I wish there were more like me on this. Most people are like me, of course, but those who are not seem to be awfully loud and insistent.

Take this past weekend. Please.

Someone I have followed on Twitter for years faces some legal trouble because of something that happened a while back, and some folks have been digging into it. One of them typed out a blog post about it, and a small but loud group has decided that what this blogger has found is sufficient to label him a "pedophile." The totality of what they have is the following:

  • A small two-inch story from a local newspaper dated August 2005, claiming this person had been arrested for drug possession and that police had found pictures of "child pornography" in his home. No details. Just that.
  • A court log, showing him pleading guilty to a couple of charges of "sexual exploitation of a minor." Again, no details. 

That's it. There are no actual court records, there are no copies of the pictures, no evidentiary details at all; there is nothing. Yet, this blogger goes on for many more paragraphs, insinuating that this person is a "pedophile." Moreover, this label has been passed around all over Twitter. Now, it's entirely possible this person is a "pedophile." It's entirely possible that every implication the blogger makes will turn out to be true. But it will be pure luck. It's certainly not based on any evidence. 

You can't possibly know he's specifically a "pedophile" based on the evidence available publicly. I know of at least one case in which a father was convicted of such a thing because he took pictures of his toddler son in the bath, naked. Is HE a "pedophile"? How about the guy who was forbidden from seeing his daughter unsupervised for 12 years because said daughter allegedly claimed he touched her inappropriately while he was giving her a bath when she was two years old. It was later found out that the mother and her boyfriend had made up the whole thing. Was HE a "pedophile"? Apparently not. But they sure were able to come up with a lot of "evidence." 

Have any of you ever heard of the McMartin preschool case in Southern California? For years, the people who ran the preschool were accused of molestation, rape and child sacrifice, and they had loads of evidence to prove it all. Except for one thing; most of the evidence was in the form of testimony by preschoolers who were coached by parents. LOTS of evidence, yet, they were acquitted.

In this instance, in order to come to the conclusion of "pedophilia" based on those two scant pieces of evidence, you have to ignore a lot more evidence. For example, take the fact that he's still Tweeting, while awaiting sentencing. The fact that he was released on his own recognizance while he awaits sentencing is interesting (although admittedly not conclusive). From my experience, it's quite unusual for an actual "pedophile" to be allowed to go home after pleading guilty. Usually, authorities can't wait to lock them up. 

For a week or more, someone had been sending me this fatuous blog post. I had read it, but decided not to comment, because I felt doing so was beneath me. I still do, which is why I'm not providing a link. But then, I made an off-hand comment, saying that I was more skeptical than most, because I know someone who has to register as a sex offender because he was 18 and his girlfriend was 16 when they were caught having sex. He's almost 30, has a wife, a kid and another on the way, but he still has to register. He's not dangerous; he babysat my nephew many times without incident. A lot of people took that as "defending a pedophile," and some of the craziest of the bunch actually speculated that I must be a "pedophile," because I was "defending him." 

See the problem with making conclusions based on limited evidence? 

Of course, I wasn't defending him. He has a lawyer for that. I was simply saying that I don't know the details, and I would withhold judgment until such time as I have a lot more evidence than a newspaper article and a case log. He may be a "pedophile," I don't know. But those who are calling him that don't know whether he is or isn't, either. And that's the reason for this article. 

Part of being effective when imparting information to others is a healthy dose of skepticism. Skepticism is a necessary tool when it comes to telling the truth. Truth isn't about what you think is right, but what can be proven right. And I'm sorry, but taking two pieces of "evidence" and creating a narrative from it is not how journalism is made. I try not to call this blog "journalism," but I come closer to it than blogs which simply insinuate "truth" based on limited evidence. 

Evidence is not the same as proof. I know a lot of people think that way, but that's simply not the case. One piece of evidence doesn't prove anything. Often, a whole lot of evidence doesn't prove anything. If you doubt that, consider the number of men on death row who have ended up being released from prison altogether based on DNA. There are a lot of innocent people out there who are forced to plead guilty to a crime to avoid prison, or because they can't afford to continue fighting charges. There are a lot of companies and people who are forced to settle civil cases because they don't have deep enough pockets to fight the other side's lawyers. This isn't a new thing; all of the people who called me "pedophile defender" know this. I know this, because a few of them have had to fight spurious charges made by others themselves. 

This is one of the reasons I object to the black-and-white thinking that seems to infect a large number of self-described "political junkies." Very few things are as they seem; everything political has many layers, and there are often many reasons for doing things that can't be understood in simple terms. My favorite recent example was the consternation over the Democrats who voted against cloture on the gun bill. There were 41 Republican votes; it wasn't possible to get 60. Why not cover your ass in your home state and live to fight another day? 

Reactionary behavior is human. We all do it. (See above.) But we have to learn to overcome natural human tendencies and do other things, because it's right to do so. Yeah, I know, it's easy to go along with the mob. But doing the right thing is rarely the easiest thing to do. It can actually be a challenge. It would have been easy for me to just go along with them. Instead, I put up with defamation and attacks. But if we're to be successful socially, personally and politically, we have to think about the consequences of what we do. The key word is "think." You can't read one blog post with pretty much zero evidence and make a conclusion based on that. Likewise, I can't use the date (Patriot's Day) and a few other errant factors and conclude that an American right winger bombed Boston. 

"I don't know" is an acceptable and usually an honest answer. 

It's just crazy to take anything at face value, especially if it doesn't pass a basic smell test. But even if it seems logical, keep checking. Skepticism is not the same as cynicism. Cynicism is an anti-intellectual exercise; cynics think they already know answers they couldn't possibly know. Skepticism is basically keeping your mind open at all times about everything. Always be open to new evidence and new ways of thinking.

Acceptance of a meme without question is the sign of a closed mind, and being a closed minded progressive should be an oxymoron. 


UPDATE: The virtual Twitter lynch mob has supplied me with a THIRD piece of "evidence;" a decision from the Tennessee Supreme Court, in which the Court rules on the admissibility of evidence. This, according to the "mob," apparently proves "beyond a reasonable doubt" that their target is, in fact, a pedophile.

Keep in mind, there has been no trial. Until he pled guilty to charges that I presume are lesser than he faced in court, he was innocent. 

These people kept repeating, "He's exhausted all of his appeals, and now he's guilty." This is just ignorance writ large. The appeal was for a decision regarding the admissibility of evidence. Oh; and lynch mob? He's not trying to "hide" evidence. If you'd bother to read the decision, he wasn't home when the search took place, and a non-resident guest let police in. He challenged the admissibility based on the Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights. You remember that, right? The one that claims you're innocent until a judge or jury says otherwise? 

The fact of the matter is, he hasn't even been tried. But to an ignorant lynch mob, a list of the prosecution's evidence is sufficient to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Can you begin to see why our system is broken? One reason he probably pled guilty was because of the emotion surrounding the issue. Imagine these geniuses were in the jury pool. That is not a good thing, folks. How did those photos get there? Could someone have framed him? Might a neighbor he screwed on a drug deal placed those photos there to get him in trouble? We'll never know, because the only evidence we've seen is the prosecution's. In an adversarial system, one is entitled to put up a defense. That's in the Bill of Rights, too, by the way. 

This is scary, folks. Our system of justice is based on the presumption of innocence, and is absolutely undermined by a presumption of guilt. I feel guilty for having smeared the right wing after the Boston bombing; how could any actual progressive (all of these people claim they are) be cyber-lynching this guy with little to no information? Again; there has been no trial, and all anyone has seen to date is the prosecution's case. He agreed to a plea deal, which is sealed. We will get more details from the sentencing hearing, but until then, no one knows anything, regardless how hysterical some emotional people get about this issue. 

I know how scary pedophiles are. I have had to deal with one at one point. But that is no reason for emotion to overtake all reason. Let the justice system play out. That's why we have it. We will probably find out what he actually pled to. But pretending you know by reciting the prosecution's case is just creepy. 

Last update: The person in question was sentenced to one year in prison, and eight years probation yesterday (May 29). He will also be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. That is because he took a plea deal. He was never given the opportunity to present a defense, so the evidence against him is simply without context. He can rightfully NOW be called a convicted felon and a sex offender.  Pedophile? That's a medical term, and I'm not a medical doctor. Of course, neither are those folks who are throwing the term. Since I have never met the man, and I don't know anything other than what the police and prosecutors tell me, I would leave the use of that term to people with greater knowledge than I. 

Note to the people who are accusing me of "defending" this guy. I'm not defending anything except a system through which people have to be proven guilty. The concept of taking anything the government says about you at face value without question is abhorrent to me. This guy chose to plead guilty to a charge because every trial has become a crap shoot these days, and that's wrong. No one can come up with anything I have said that suggests I defend this guy personally, because I don't defend him. He has a lawyer for that. I am simply saying I don't know what happened. All I know, and all anyone knows, is the list of charges and the compendium of evidence presented by the prosecution. No one has seen, or will ever see, a defense case, or defense evidence. No one will ever hear testimony from the other side.

I'm simply saying we know half the story.  That's all any of us knows, whether you're talking about me or the virtual lynch mob. And that has been my only point all along. 

I'll leave you with this: 

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." — Ben Franklin

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  1. Hey Milt,
    OK, forget about all that police and prosecution said, and also about whatever link i used as reference. And i also agreed that we can’t possibly know what the defense would have said.
    My point is that: 1. he was charged with sexual exploitation of a minor, specifically the possession of more than 100 images of child pornography. And this is not an assumption, this is a fact. 2. He pled guilty to that charge which is a class B felony. This we know is also true.
    To your point, what more specific you need this to be? And what, now that he pled guilty, could he possibly say? That he pled guilty to having more than 100 images of child pornography but he didn’t know what he was pleading guilty to? That the he pled guilty but the images weren’t really his? That he pled guilty but the images weren’t all that bad?
    And by the way, i’m not and have not said at any moment that you are saying that he is innocent. You are saying he pled guilty to something but not sure what exactly, i’m saying that, in my opinion, he pled guilty to very specific charges. No reason to characterize me as being disingenuous or being part of a lynch mob, because i’m not.

  2. What part of this do you not get?
    Police And prosecutors SAY all of that. Where’s HIS side?
    Police SAY they found all of that shit. Police SAY he admitted having them.
    The document you keep trying to sneak in here are procedural documents, and that’s all. They are a list of issues the prosecution is citing as evidence. First of all, it’s not necessarily all of the prosecution’s evidence, but there is ZERO defense evidence there.
    Once more, i am NOT saying he’s not guilty of something. I’m saying neither of us knows what it is as yet. You keep insinuating that you do based on conjecture and a series of assumptions. Since you and the others in your lynch mob don’t even seem to understand what the documents you cite are for, I’d say you’re being disingenuous in your declarations.

  3. Hi Milt,
    You are right, it is impossible to know what the defense would have said. But on the second point, yes we do know he was charged with sexual exploitation of a minor, specifically charged with possesion of child pornography and he pled guilty to that specific charge. If you read what sexual exploitation of a minor means legally in tennessee (see link below) you can clearly see that the statue is fairly narrow and pleading guilty to a class B felony means possession of more than 100 images of child pornography. Additionally, he did, as shown in the TN desicion doc, admit to having those images, because he was “curious”… More than 100x curious!
    Anyway, i’m not part of any lynching mob and i have no idea what the GW reference is all about, just trying to have a normal discussion.

  4. The decision was about the admissibility of evidence. It was not a determination that the evidence was entirely truthful. They ruled it was admissible, that’s all.
    1. You have all of the prosecution evidence. You have NONE of the defense evidence, because there was no trial. Therefore, you are accepting everything the prosecution tells you as absolute fact. That flies in the face of everything our system stands for. If George W. Bush had said the same things about YOU, I have no doubt you’d scream bloody murder. ANYONE who accepts what police say without question is a fool.
    2. You do NOT know he pled guilty to possessing child pornography. You know the general category he pled guilty to, you do NOT know the specifics. You are assuming. By definition, an assumption is not a fact.
    3. IF/when I hear details of the sentencing hearing, I will be in a better position to make a judgment for myself. Until then, I don’t know anything, and neither do you. You know what police SAID happened. You know what the prosecutors said. You have NO CLUE what the defense would have said. You have NO IDEA what the defense was.
    Our system is based on the presumption of innocence. He is absolutely guilty of something, because he pled that way. But NO ONE except the defendant and the court knows the exact charges. You ASSUME you know, but you do not.
    Again, I’m not defending him. I’m defending our justice system, and I am fighting what is essentially a virtual lynch mob.

  5. Hi Milt,
    When you read the Tennessee decision you see this:
    After a search warrant was obtained, the officers conducted a search of the unit at approximately 10:15 p.m. They discovered more illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia, pornographic images of children, and three pornographic compact discs.2 When Ms. Knight informed Detective Simonik that the Defendant had other drugs and a gun at his
    place of business, the officers applied for a search warrant at that location. The second warrant was issued at 2:59 a.m. on the following day. Two hours later, the officers found more illegal drugs, a gun, and a large number of pornographic images of children at the Defendant’s place of business. When arrested, the Defendant admitted to having used cocaine since the prior September and acknowledged that he had provided illegal drugs to some of his friends in exchange for money, explaining that he did not consider this to be “selling.” He also asserted that he had downloaded the images the detectives found on his computer only out of curiosity
    Based upon the results of the investigation, the Defendant was indicted by a grand jury on six counts: (1) exploitation of a minor by possessing more than fifty images of child pornography; (2) sexual exploitation of a minor by possessing more than one-hundred images of child pornography; (3) possession of dihydrocodeinone with intent to sell or deliver; (4) possession of alprazolam with intent to sell or deliver; (5) possession of clonazepan with intent to sell or deliver; and (6) possession of diphenoxylate with intent to sell or deliver
    So am i reading something wrong?
    He was indicted by a grand jury, and then pled guilty to sexual exploitation of a minor, specifically a class B felony which in Tennessee is the possession of more than 100 images of child pornography. All these are facts, documented in a decision by the Tennessee court, hardly a made up document.
    As you rightly mention he fought the legality of the search based on his believe that the search violated his constitutional rights but it is a technicality. Whether or not the search was legal might have rendered the evidence inadmissible but not false, fake or made up. The images of child pornography were there, he was indicted for it and pled guilty. I would imagine that the presumption of innocence is no longer a presumption if you do in fact plead guilty.
    What am I missing?
    Sure we don’t have every little nitty gritty detail but we do know he is guilty of possession of child pornography. Doesn’t that make him a pedophile?
    I’m not looking to start a nasty argument at all. Just honestly interested in the discussion.

  6. Jesus, you fool. I left the personally identifying shit out of what I wrote. Get a clue.
    You don’t know what he pled guilty of. I know this, because even you and the lynch mob have admitted the plea deal is sealed. You have a generalized category, no specifics.
    What you have is a newspaper report of the arrest and an accounting of the prosecution’s case. What you do NOT have is the other side of the story.
    Read these and learn. The first two are about Tennessee and NPD specifically. The third is more general.
    You still want to rely on your apparent contention that police and prosecutors never lie about anything. I’m not saying they did; I’m saying no one knows what is true and what isn’t. Essentially, you and the rest of the lynch mob are convicting someone in the court of public opinion based on the word of police and prosecutors only. That so goes against what our justice system stands for, it’s appalling. NO one claiming to be a liberal would EVER support convicting someone based on accusations. And don’t repeat your crap about a plea. Neither one of knows what he pled to.
    On May 29, we may find out more information. Until then, everything you say is pure assumption and speculation and that’s all. You could end up being right, but it will be pure coincidence.
    Why do you keep ignoring other evidence? Take, for example, the fact that he’s still free and posting online? Do you know of many judges who would give a ROR to a convicted pedophile, especially with no restrictions on Internet use? I study these cases, and I can’t think of another. How many have you studied?
    I’m not apologizing for anyone. If he’s pled guilty to actual pedophilia, then he’s a convicted pedophile. But as of right now, neither of us knows this.

  7. The reason you deleted the comment is that you don’t want readers to finish your long-winded post full of nothing only to find damning appeals documents linked in the top comment.
    You don’t want your readers to find out that the person you’re protecting was arrested with thousands of pills, two teenagers, and hundreds of kiddie porn pictures — or that he is GUILTY of the same by his own admission in court.
    You don’t want them to understand that the “accused” is now considered GUILTY of crimes for which he will be SENTENCED on May 29 because that doesn’t make you look like the all-wise arbiter of propriety and morality that you claim to be.
    It makes you look like an apologist for a convicted pedophile awaiting his sentence. Good luck with that, Milt, I’m glad it’s you.

  8. I have deleted a comment, for a very basic reason.
    As you’ll notice, I have not used the name of the person accused or the gossip columnist posing as a blogger who is perpetrating this fraud. And I did so for a reason; it’s not about either of them. It’s about telling the truth. And the FACT of the matter is, there was no trial, so it is only possible to know ONE SIDE of the story. And frankly, anyone who takes one side of the story and thinks they know the truth is a fool.
    So, gossip columnist, if you would like to discuss what I wrote, without using my blog to perpetrate more gossip, then go for it. My blog, my rules.

Comments are closed.