Monday, January 16, 2006

Cashman coverage is bankrupt

This is depressing.

An Associated Press report this weekend shows that a court transcript "undercuts" the "assertions by some" that Judge Edward Cashman doesn't "believe" in prison sentences as adequate punishment. State lawmakers and the governor have suggested Cashman made such a statement in the sentencing of a convicted sex offender.

What's depressing, at least to me, is that politicians (including national talk-show ideologue Bill O'Reilly) were allowed to spin the story, create myth, and the press let them run with it. "The press," by the way, I think can fairly be described as the state's top daily newspapers: the Burlington Free Press, and jointly the Times Argus and Rutland Herald, via the Vermont Press Bureau.

This controversial topic was allowed to boil down to a "he said/she said" issue, when information was readily available that would have "undercut" the "assertions by some" much earlier in the ball game.

Granted, this particular court transcript apparently wasn't a public document until Friday. Still, this myth that somehow Judge Cashman didn't value prison punishment was repeated in the press echo chamber so many times that it went unchallenged. The court transcript clearly states that Cashman didn't think prison terms were enough — i.e., sex offender treatment is needed, too.

Lest you think I'm standing atop a pedestal here — I've certainly fallen prey to such coverage before. I understand that amid the pressures of deadline, reporting and writing it's difficult sometimes to do the extra legwork; it's easier sometimes to get that quote instead of that fact. As a journalist, what I take away from all this is a reminder to avoid reliance on "he said/she said" formula whenever possible. If your mother says she loves you, as the axiom goes, check it out.

Otherwise, that's how mountains can certainly be made out of molehills, and that's partly the case here. The larger issue of sentencing for criminals is an important debate, but coverage is been heavy on Cashman, Cashman, Cashman, and whether he should be crucified for his light sentencing or disrespect for the judicial system. And, now faced with proposed legislation to end his tenure as a judge, Cashman is in a big pickle when the press lets myth become common knowledge.

Cashman, the Times Argus reports today, is among the top issues now at the Statehouse. Interesting it's Cashman, not the state's criminal sentencing law, that's in the hot seat.

— Scott Monroe

3 Comments:

Blogger TheAdversary said...

Talk about undercutting...the reporter waits until the end of the story to put in what undercuts HIS report:

"I feel very strongly about retribution. And why? I didn't come to that easily. It isn't something that I started at. I started out as a just desert sentencer. I liked it. Across the line? Pop Them. Well, then I discovered it accomplishes nothing of value. It doesn't make anything better."

He took a paragraph to say what has been summed up and reported, "I no longer believe in punishmnet." If he USED to hand out punishment and he's not "discovered" that it "accomplishes nothing of value" and "doesn't make anything better", he is saying he no longer believes in it!

2:17 AM  
Blogger Scott Monroe said...

Thanks for the comment. I'm afraid, though, you're using logical fallacy to make a point.

This is a nuanced issue and requires nuanced reporting. Judge Cashman never made the statement, "I no longer believe in punishment." To the contrary, punishment "is not enough" is what he said. Just because he thinks a prison term by itself accomplishes "nothing of value" does not mean he "no longer believes in punishment."

Not believing in prison terms and thinking prison terms are not enough (treatment is needed, too) are too very different concepts.
The Times Argus just posted an Associated Press report on Cashman lengthening the sentence, from a 60-day jail term to three to 10 years, and the judge reiterates this notion once again:

"The court agrees a punitive response — punishment — is a valuable and necessary component of society's response to criminal conduct," he said. "It is a tool that the court has routinely used for the past 24 years on the trial bench. As stated during the sentencing hearing, however, punishment is not enough of a response in some cases.

"This is one of those cases," he said.

1:37 PM  
Blogger TheAdversary said...

"Nuanced" appears to be a liberal code word here. Every one of you is using it in this case, why?

There is NOTHING nuanced about this. A grown man molested a child over a four year period and a judge gave him, initially, 60 days and said:

"[Punishment] accomplished nothing of value."

"[Punishment] doesn't make anything better.

In the context of the ENTIRE paragraph, the meaning is clear: He USED to belive in punishment, but no longer." He never ONCE said, "punishment alone" in the initial decision, as you suggest. The fallacy in this debate is this "fact" that you are reading into Cashman in order to defend him.

Quote for me EXACTLY where he said "punishment alone". You can't, because he didn't say it.

He said punishment accomplishes nothing and has no value. He added no further qualifiers.

And now we find out that Cashman subscribes to the restorative theory of justice which, as one of its precepts, disavows ALL punishment.

No matter how hard you try to read in words Cashman didn't say, spin the words he did say, or ignore the context in which it was said, the truth remains -- Cashman has stated that he no longer believes in punishment.

Additionally, his recent statement trying to "explain" his earlier statements, demonstrates that he knows he screwed up and that he let too much of his true judicial philosophy into the public eye. Just a few weeks ago he said punishment accomplishes nothing and has no value. Yesterday, fearing for his job, he says punishment is "valuable."

The only question remaining then is was Cashman lying three weeks ago, or is he lying now?

9:43 PM  

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