Thursday, July 08, 2010
Trial by Fury
There's a pretty good chance Terri Horman knows something about the disappearance of her stepson that she's not telling the police.
Over the past month -- since the day that her husband's 7-year-old son Kyron vanished, seemingly into thin air -- Horman has been on an almost comically predictable career trajectory when it comes to her role in America's latest media-amplified reality drama. Her character arc -- from sympathetic, heartbroken loved one, to suspicious potential Phantom Menace, to conniving, murderous villainess -- felt like it was practically etched in stone from the very beginning.
By now you probably know that last week Kyron Horman's father, Kaine, left his wife and immediately filed a restraining order against her -- this even though he initially claimed to have believed her when she said she had no idea what happened to Kyron despite being the last person to see him. Chances are you also know what actually did lead Kaine Horman to get what's left of his family as far away from Terri Horman as possible: A Portland, Oregon newspaper reports that Police told him she recently tried to hire the gardener to kill him.
But did she?
Once again, I'm not saying that Terri Horman isn't everything she seems to be at the moment; I'm saying that she may very well not be everything the media are making her out to be -- and make no mistake, that's who's informing your opinion of her and has been all along. Ever since the Hormans first stepped in front of a camera to make the search for their missing child public, everything you know about Terri Horman has been a product of her reflection in the funhouse mirror of the modern media circus. Reality has been twisted, tweaked and corrupted in the name of making an already heartrending story mesmerizing. Anchors, advocates and self-appointed experts have delighted in orgiastically speculating on all kinds of assumed facts not actually in evidence, filling in the myriad blanks with whatever blind conjecture they see fit -- whatever might make the overall burlesque act that much more titillating.
Terri Horman hasn't yet been named an official suspect in the disappearance of young Kyron. Instead, she's been slapped with the cheaply sophistic "person of interest" label, which is nothing more than a police and press dodge popularized as a response to cases in which innocent people were tried and convicted in the public eye before all the facts could be brought to light that would unequivocally exonerate them -- the kind of White Horse proof capable of temporarily tamping down the moral certitude of the various tawdry opportunists who claim to crusade only in the name of fairness and justice.
I'm not naive enough to believe that Terri Horman is completely innocent. But I'm also not naive enough to trust a media feeding frenzy when it implies that she's guilty before she's even charged with anything.
I've seen this kind of thing before.
"The Quiet Man" (Originally Published, 8.29.07)
Richard Jewell is dead, at the age of 44.
In a somewhat ironic, somewhat and sadly expected denouement, the announcement came from his lawyer.
For those of you who don't immediately recognize the name -- which is almost surely the way the man himself would've wanted it in the first place -- Jewell was, for 88 days in 1996, the prime suspect in the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, which killed one person and wounded more than a hundred others.
Jewell was a security guard at the park and found the suspicious bag containing the bomb. He warned others about it and attempted to move them out of harm's way; there's little doubt that the death toll would've been much higher had Jewell not intervened, and indeed, at first he was hailed as a hero. But then something happened -- something entirely unsurprising when you consider the grotesque nature of modern media saturation and just what's required to keep it running in a manner that's satisfying to both the unscrupulous monsters at its helm and the hungry public it supposedly serves: Richard Jewell was turned into a villain -- the perfect villain actually.
Thanks to an over-zealous and incompetent federal prosecutor and a news cycle which demanded fresh blood, no matter the cost to innocents or the truth, Jewell was judged and convicted in the public eye before all the facts were in; his life was turned upside-down and inside-out, all on live television. Richard Jewell became the sacrificial lamb on the altar of the public's insatiable, voyeuristic right to know -- and lazy journalism's bullshit supposed obligation to that demand.
At all times during the sickening media circus, Jewell maintained his innocence.
Finally, after almost 12 weeks of non-stop harassment and conjecture -- Richard Jewell was cleared of any and all wrongdoing. It would be years before America realized that the bomb had in fact been planted by right-wing psychopath Eric Rudolph.
But by the time the prosecutor officially apologized to Jewell -- and the media did its usual post-hoc hand-wringing and soul-searching -- the damage had already been done. Jewell's life had been ruined.
From a strictly mathematical perspective, it might have been worth the destruction of one innocent man to teach the media the crucial lesson that blood in the water provides no sanction for an unconscionable feeding frenzy -- to save the lives of the next generation of Richard Jewells.
Unfortunately, all it takes is a flip through the TV stations or a glance at a newspaper to realize that the press has learned absolutely nothing.
Imagine for a moment what kind of baseless accusations would've vomited out of the mouth of, say, Nancy Grace, had she had her own cable news show during the Jewell saga: Likely the same baseless and despicable accusations she now levels at every other untried and technically innocent person she arrogantly deems to be guilty, despite it never having been proven in a court of law.
Richard Jewell is gone, but his legacy lives on.
It's too bad the media chooses to ignore it -- particularly since, for all intents and purposes, they ended Jewell's life a decade ago.