Rush to Judgment

Posted: September 1, 2006 in Blogosphere, Tacky

We just can’t wait to pass judgment on the latest tidbit coughed up by the infosphere. The shortness of the news cycle has a lot to do with that. If news isn’t crisp and current, it is often considered unworthy of our attention, even if that news is only a month or two old. (Scientific studies, BTW, sometimes take years to complete and a few more months to report on. So when a study is published, it can’t really be considered stale only two months later.) I have a stack of newspapers I haven’t yet read dating back to May of this year. News contained there — total ephemera in my view — is already so out of date that it renders those pages practically worthless. What implication does that have for a 10-year-old newspaper, which without its immediate historical context is practically unreadable? Did all that newsgathering ever have any intrinsic value beyond its momentary ability to titilate?

Recent news in the case of the murder of JonBenet Ramsey is especially revealing: news outlets can’t help themselves from falling into the rush-to-judgment trap, even as they acknowledge it (see this article in the San Francisco Chronical). On my group blog, an embarrassing entry offers an apology (and calls for others to follow suit) to the subjects of an older rush to judgment by concluding immediately that the confession of a sad attention-seeker (recently determined to be a bogus confession) lets the previous suspects, tried in the court of public opinion, off the hook. Does the falsity of the confession place the originally adjudged suspects back in jeopardy? Is the apology invalidated?

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