November 10th, 2011
07:04 PM ET

Letters to the President #1025: 'Rushing offense'

Reporter's Note: Legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno has been dismissed in the wake of a sexual abuse case involving children and one of his former assistant coaches. I’m still on the job, however, writing my daily letters to the White House.

Dear Mr. President,

I suppose I am going to appear out of step with a lot of Americans in saying this, but I have grown a little weary with the way that we rush to judgment all the time. It seems as if we’ve transformed ourselves into a nation where every perceived offense is immediately tried in the court of public opinion, and we don’t have the patience to even listen to all the facts on hand, let alone wait for a more complete investigation.

Whether we’re talking about Hermann Cain, or Anthony Weiner, or as we’ve seen relentlessly in the news all day, Penn State coach Joe Paterno. (I suppose I should say, “former” coach now. He’s just been there so long it is kind of hard to think of anyone else in that job.) We seem all too ready to proclaim people guilty until they can prove themselves innocent.

Please be clear on this: I’m not expressing any opinion about what the above mentioned folks did or did not do, nor am I arguing for leniency. Those who have done wrong must pay the price, no matter the suffering, and no matter their pedigree. What I’m saying is that if our culture values justice, our first response to any accusation…no matter how salacious or awful…should be: Is it true? That, in turn, should prompt a public outcry for a swift, comprehensive investigation, and airing of the facts. Only then should we demand that punishment be meted out.

Sometimes I think that we’ve all grown so frustrated by lawyers who circumvent justice; rich and powerful folks who seem to be above the law; and general miscreants who appear to game the system to their benefit, that when we see something that looks like a clear case of guilt, we overreact. We call for immediate lashes. We want the offender driven from town before we’ve even bothered to read the indictment, let alone impanel a jury.

Again, I don’t care what happens to those who do wrong. I just want to make sure I understand what they did, and that they…well…in fact, did it. When we all beat the drum too loudly and quickly for the condemnation of someone, I worry about us – our sense of what is just and what is not, and our ability to act like a well-informed, thoughtful, mature population instead of a mob.

I’m sure you’ve heard that old legal saw “justice delayed is justice denied.” I think there should be a corollary: “Find justice in due time, because justice rushed, may not be justice at all.”

Hope all is well. Nice run in the woods this morning. Scared up several deer including a magnificent buck. You would have enjoyed seeing them.


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Filed under: Letters to the President • Opinion • President Barack Obama • T1 • Tom Foreman
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