Why My Patience With All News Media Is Growing Rather Thin

by the other theo

A friend on the Blue & White Network posted a link to a breaking bit of news from a major market television station web site regarding capital punishment in California.  The story led with the line:

A federal judge in Orange County on Wednesday declared the death penalty “unconstitutional” in the state of California – the first ruling of its kind in the United States.

U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney in Orange County called the system “dysfunctional” and “arbitrary” in his 29-page ruling.

My immediate reaction was three fold.  First, I know that capital punishment in California has been under assault (pretty much unsuccessfully) for some time now, so this was news.  Second, I don’t claim to be an expert on capital punishment but I had the fuzzy recollection that the United States Supreme Court had issued some kind of ruling back in the 1970’s that invalidated capital punishment on constitutional grounds until states had modified their procedures.  Third, I recalled that Charles Manson got his capital sentence commuted to life in prison because the courts had invalidated California’s capital procedures before.  So… the “first of its kind” hyperbole smelled fishy to me.

Using the Web for what it’s good at (finding somebody’s version of the facts quickly), I was able to find two pieces of information in Wikipedia in under 10 minutes:

  1. The California State Supreme Court voided the death penalty in California under the State Constitution in 1972 in State of California v. Robert Page Anderson.  California modified its Constitution to re-institute the death penalty.
  2. In the same year, the United States Supreme Court created a nationwide four year moratorium on the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia, stating in scattered, non-controlling opinions that the arbitrary imposition of the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment and violated the Constitution.  This forced states to re-write capital punishment laws to implement more uniform impositions of the death penalty in order to pass Constitutional muster.

Now, if I, as a curious reader, can find this out with almost no effort, why can’t a reporter who is informing thousands or millions of people do the same thing?   It provides essential context, and helps avoid the kind of hyperbole that rattles cages and calls people to arms.

I know so many people today who are so angry about the state of this nation or the world because some blogger or talking head on TV or web site told them however overtly or subtly that the should be angry… generally over things that 20-30 minutes of research can put into context with a few facts.  That context goes missing, and we get people thinking that Steven Spielberg killed a triceratops — a dinosaur that went extinct 66 million years ago.

Perhaps that’s my problem:  I’m in love with facts.