Friday, May 25, 2012


The irony was lost on no one in New Orleans: the very day that Newhouse Publishing announced the Times-Picayune would only print three days a week starting in the Fall, the paper ran a headline that included the word “Titanic.” New Orleanians are so enamored of their 179-year-old daily newspaper that the announcement felt sharply fatalistic. It is a similar sense of mourning that Coloradans felt in 2009 when the Rocky Mountain News folded. The same feeling of loss hovered over Seattle in 2009 when the Post-Intelligencer stopped printing. It is, without question, the relentless march of technology that has caused a hard cultural shift in the way Americans get their news.

 Since I worked for the Times-Picayune for nine years (until 2002), and I now teach journalism (including digital journalism) at a university, I have a pluralistic perspective on what happened in New Orleans yesterday. Technology started to take hold at the paper in the late 1990s. Prior to that we were actually using computers with the old black screens and green type and DOS operating system. We had no Internet access at that time, and really no clear idea of how technology and the newspaper business would intersect in just a few short years. But that was then.

 “Then” included a centuries-old industry that has always been dominated by older white males.
Although many of them were and are great journalists, few of them had the necessary vision about the technological future that was unfolding before their eyes. No one, for example, ever even considered the fact that a newspaper could stop printing a daily edition in favor of delivering content strictly online.

 In the late 1990s when the TP established a web site,, we wondered what it would be used for. If you check it out even today, it’s not used for much of anything. You can go there and buy yourself a book about the history of the newspaper, or you can subscribe (not likely), or you can even arrange to advertise (even less likely). What you cannot do at the web site is find out what is going on in the world. There is no news at

 Meanwhile, along comes, billed as the companion website to the newspaper. I’m not sure if the higher ups at Newhouse (the parent company) know this, but a number of journalism teachers use as an example of what not to do in digital journalism.
The site is tough to navigate, hard on the eyes (a recent redesign is themed in bright yellow, a color designers almost never use for websites) and not terribly compelling from a news standpoint. There is very little movement on the site, an element that distinguishes online publications from their static print cousins. Unfortunately, the company never quite knew how to deliver smart, informative content via the web. And now comes news that the web will be the predominant vehicle via which the company sends out its content.

Further, word comes that Jim Amoss, the highly talented and respected editor of the TP will run the new show. With all due respect to Amoss, the “new show” needs a new media leader, rather than a print journalist. Since the company has had such a poor digital showing to date, what is needed is a highly skilled digital editor, not a traditional newspaper editor. Further, working under his or her supervision, the new show needs innovative, imaginative digital designers to make the product appealing on first glance and beyond. Then it needs to pour good money into hiring a determined, highly trained investigative reporting team that can produce in-depth stories of newspaper quality.

By now, we know what works in online news. First, the site must be visually stunning. Second, it must include a smart mix of original content and aggregate news from other respected sites. Third, it must show a lot of news and visuals in the first screen,
because we now have studies that show people don’t like to scroll, so we have to give them good reasons to do so. Finally, it must be updated continually at all hours. If you really want to know what works, check out Tina Brown’s “The Daily Beast.”

This week Facebook is frantic with people lamenting the loss of the Times-Picayune daily print edition. New Orleanians have a dedicated, emotional tie to their newspaper of record. Many of them are calling for citizens to pounce on the company with letters, calls and issues of complaint. Sadly, such outcries will not change anything.

What many of them are not facing is the reality of the newspaper industry, which is the fastest declining industry in the United States, according to a March, 2012 report from the Council of Economic Advisors. The same report reveals that online publishing is among the fastest-growing industries in the nation. As usual, the numbers tell the story: Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the Times-Picayune had a circulation of 261,000. That number has dwindled to about 130,000.

If truth be told, many of those who are protesting the loudest do not read the newspaper. The readership issue is generational. Older citizens are far more likely to subscribe and read the paper. Younger people are devoted to their smartphones and Ipads,
where they can get their news on the go. Still, culturally there is a romantic attachment Americans have with their daily. It is the stuff that movies and books and Broadway plays have been made of. Memorable issues are neatly tucked away in attics coast to coast. On my own office wall is the framed February 8, 2010 edition of the TP, featuring a Super Bowl triumphant Drew Brees in a victory pose.

There is, without question, a sweet sentimentality about old timey newsprint. But sentimentality does not feed the bottom line, encourage advertisers to promote their wares in print or have the moxie to fight the onslaught of consumer technology. And the Times-Picayune decision makers simply did not have the necessary foresight to save their product, while neatly integrating digital content into their readers lives. They just didn’t. What is most disturbing to me is simply that their lack of vision will now result in hundreds of good people losing their jobs. Not just reporters and writers, but delivery truck drivers, wholesalers, technicians, accounting personnel, sales reps, human resources workers, photographers, graphic designers, administrative assistants, marketers, and so many more. In the end, newspapers are all about people, and now many, many people will face the biggest challenge of their lives.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


SECRET SERVICE SCANDAL WIDENS: The scandal involving U.S. Secret Service personnel and prostitutes in Colombia widened this week to include possible involvement of DEA agents, as well. The Washington Post has provided the most comprehensive coverage of the story to date, including this week’s revelation that some Secret Service employees are fighting their dismissals with claims that they are being made scapegoats in the investigation. This week, Congressional Hearings began about the Colombia incident, with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) claiming the scandal may be just the tip of the iceberg: “This was not a one-time event,” said Collins, “The circumstances unfortunately suggest an issue of culture.”

FACEBOOK’S INITIAL PUBLIC DEBACLE: It was supposed to be one of the largest Internet company Initial Public Offerings in history, but it turned into a case of big talk and no walk. Facebook opened its company up to investors and promptly flopped. Forbes Magazine has done a stellar job in interpreting this mess for the masses, especially offering solid reasons the IPO was a bust. It should have been a top-shelf week for CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who saw his fiancĂ©e graduate from med school and then got married the day after the IPO debut; instead, Zuckerberg, more of an idea guy than a corporate animal, is learning the hard way that playing in the big leagues is unpredictable and pretty ugly.

UNCLE WALTER UNMASKED: Three years after his death and three decades after he signed off for the last time at CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite is the subject of a sometimes unflattering new biography by historian Douglas Brinkley. Brinkley, whose is renowned for his deep research and thorough approach to his subjects, uncovered a few fatal flaws about “the most trusted man in America.” Cronkite, it seems, was not immune to accepting favors and gifts from companies or organizations about which he reported.
It is widely known that Cronkite was against the Vietnam war, but not until Brinkley’s book did we find out that he actually pushed Robert F. Kennedy into a presidential run in 1968. “You must announce your intention to run against Johnson,” Cronkite reportedly told RFK, “to show people there will be a way out of this terrible war.” One could say the newsman was attempting to create the news, which as all decent journalists know, is about as against the rules as against the rules can be. The book also details Cronkite’s disdain for his successor, Dan Rather. Read more about Brinkley’s revelations at Newsweek and The Daily Beast.

STEALING SHERIFF JOE’S THUNDER: If there is one word to describe Arizona, it is “persistent.” This week, the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the living thorn in President Obama’s side, decided to send a deputy to Hawaii to prove once and for all that Obama was not born in the U.S. There was just one problem with Sheriff Joe’s timing: Also this week, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett received final verification from Hawaii Attorney General David Louie that Obama was indeed born in Hawaii.
Bennett was threatening to keep Obama off the November presidential election ballot if he could not be fully assured that Obama was born in the U.S. Meanwhile, Sheriff Joe might want to focus his energies on his own tenure in Arizona: The U.S. government has filed suit against Arpaio for racially profiling Latinos. Note to “America’s toughest sheriff”: Uncle Sam is one mean mother.

AND YET, NO APOLOGY: The judge in the Dharun Ravi (below, left) case wondered out loud before imposing a 30-day sentence on the 19-year-old who clandestinely taped his Rutgers University roommate having sex with a man: “I haven’t heard you apologize.” Yet Ravi’s lack of stated remorse did not seem to influence Judge Glenn Berman to exact extreme punishment. 30 days in jail, $10,000 fine and community service work. The roommate, Tyler Clementi, after discovering that Ravi had distributed the video online, jumped to his death from a bridge.
The light sentence touched off a firestorm of disagreement among observers, but Judge Berman said simply, "I do not believe [the legislature] envisioned this type of behavior" when it passed the anti-bias statute at the heart of the case.” In other words, in his estimation, the act did not rise to the standards of a hate crime. As Forbes Magazine staff writer Kashmir Hill points out, this was not a murder case, but what about the obvious invasion of privacy? Now that we have such easily accessible consumer technology, maybe it is time to revisit our privacy laws and bring them into the 21st century.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Jack Conkling is a seventh grade social studies teacher in Hutchinson, KS, population just over 42,000. In Hutchison they still like to brag about Tommy Thompson, an early to mid-20th century football hero now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They don’t, however mention one of their other native citizens, Ms.  Raquel Darrian, a 1990 Penthouse Magazine “Pet of the Month,” and later a successful porn actress. Such activities have no place in Hutchison. No, everything in Hutchison is quite orderly.

Safely landlocked in the middle of middle America, Conkling (below, right) also coaches women’s basketball at Buhler High School in Buhler, KS, a cozy bedroom community of just over 1300 people.  The most recent census says Buhler is 98.45 percent white. In his photos, Jack looks like any other average white guy,
but here’s what separates Jack from the pack. He wrote this on his Facebook page, where many of his “friends” are also his students:
Gay marriage is wrong because homosexuality is wrong. The Bible clearly states it is sin. Now I do not claim it to be a sin any worse than other sins. It ranks in God’s eyes the same as murder, lying, stealing, or cheating.”

Conkling’s post made national news and continues to be the stuff that blogs are made of from coast to coast. I found Conkling’s email address and decided to drop him a line:
Dear Mr. Conkling:
Gosh, I can’t help wondering what your gay students felt when they read on Facebook that because of their sexuality they are just like murderers -- “in God’s eyes.” You do know that if you teach seventh grade long enough, the odds are that you will have gay students in class, don’t you, Mr. Conkling? Then I couldn’t help wondering what it must be like to live in Kansas and know what the world looks like through God’s eyes.  Could you tell us more about that in your next Facebook post? By the way, I’m sure you know that Kansas is one state where the death penalty is still legal.  So, since being gay and being a murderer are equal in God’s eyes, do you believe it would be most efficient to execute gay people? And listen, if so, you better hurry, because you know the Kansas legislature, as we speak, is debating House Bill 2323, which would abolish the death penalty.  Hope to hear from you soon…
Paul A. Greenberg

Oddly, I haven’t received a response from Mr. Conkling.

Meanwhile, almost 800 miles away in tiny Braxton, MS (population 181, and no that is not a typo), MS State Representative Andy Gipson (left) has been busy with his own Facebook page, on which he quoted the Bible last week:
“Leviticus 20:13 reads: "If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."

It’s worth mentioning that Gipson references the Old Testament. I was wondering if he happened to see the part where it says it’s acceptable to sell your daughter into slavery.  Oh, and Andy, did you see where Leviticus says I’m supposed to “hate any animal in the water that does not have fins or scales?” Fess up, Andy…you know you eat Gulf shrimp over there in Mississippi.  I’m pretty sure the Old Testament also says the world is flat and prostitutes must be stoned to death.  

Andy Gipson needs to be reminded that he was elected to serve all of his constituents fairly and equally, including those who are gay. I want to remind him that his job is to help create and pass laws. The job does not include promoting any particular religious view, and passing moral judgments on constituents is way outside the boundaries of his job description. I would remind him that the basic tenet of Judeo-Christian philosophy is respect for the dignity of human beings – all human beings. While he has the right as a private citizen to interpret the Bible, that privilege does not come with his elected position. Now that he has advocated death for gay citizens, I believe he should be compelled to step down.

Similarly, Jack Conkling should pay close attention to the wave of gay teen suicides in this country. He should realize that as a middle school teacher he wields great influence over his young students, and again I would remind him that some of them are gay.
To equate their inborn sexuality with the crime/sin of murder should be grounds for his immediate dismissal from his profession. I base this on the fact that he is working with impressionable, vulnerable youth, and his expressed attitude may cause some of his students lifelong self-doubt or worse. His ill-conceived Facebook post implicitly communicated to his students that they are not and cannot be good enough to live in our society.

Now that the President of the United States has publicly endorsed marriage between gay people, the anti-gay rhetoric is amping up to an unreasonable volume.  When a seventh grade teacher in Kansas and an elected official in Mississippi each find it acceptable to publicly denigrate all gay people based on biblical scripture, going so far as to compare sexuality to murder, we have lost our cultural sense of reason. It serves to remind us that there is something in the human condition that just causes some people to need extreme affiliation with their "own kind," and extreme superiority over those who are not just like they are. I’m not about to try to figure out what that need stems from, but I am sure such individuals do not belong in our public school systems or legislatures.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


ROLLER COASTER WEEK FOR ZIMMERMAN: The fallout from the Trayvon Martin case continues. This week, George Zimmerman's medical records were uncovered by ABC News, revealing that Martin’s accused killer indeed had a broken nose after the incident. He also had two black eyes and a cut on the back of his head. That would be encouraging news for the defense, were it not for another report this week that the FBI is considering charging Zimmerman with a hate crime. Orlando’s WFTV, the local ABC affiliate, reveals that if these new charges are brought against Zimmerman, he would be eligible for the death penalty.

 FACEBOOK’S IPO MAY TOP $16 BILLION: By mid-week, Facebook had upped its initial public offering to what could make the company’s value skyrocket to $16 billion. That would make it the fourth largest IPO in U.S. history. What happens when NASDAQ trading begins on Friday will reveal whether investors think the price is too high. Meanwhile, General Motors announced it is pulling $10 million worth of advertising from Facebook’s site. No explanation so far, but speculation ranges from not enough bang for the buck to negotiations that simply soured. Whatever the reason, it’s not good timing for Facebook to lose a major player.  

: Jamie Dimon,(left) the CEO of JP Morgan, gets to keep his job and his $23 million annual salary, even though the investment firm revealed a stunning $2 billion loss this week. At the annual shareholders meeting, Dimon was retained as CEO. The company’s troubles are far from over, however, with a rumored FBI probe and the SEC hovering. Even worse, the shareholders are rebelling en masse, filing lawsuits alleging the firm took unreasonable risks with their cash. Still, here's the big question: How does Dimon keep his throne when JP Morgan Chief Investment Officer Ina Drew gets fired? Answer: No mystery there: life in corporateland just ain't fair.  

EDWARDS DEFENSE RESTS: One of the most high-profile jury trials in recent memory came to an abrupt halt this week, as the John Edwards defense team rested their case without calling Edwards or Rielle Hunter to the stand. It was widely reported that Edwards’ daughter, Cate Edwards would be called by the defense, but she was not. Legal pundits now theorize that the prosecution did not prove their campaign contribution abuse claims beyond a shadow of a doubt, and that the defense quit while it was ahead. Some say a verdict could be forthcoming by the weekend.  

ALLEGED: MS COP-IMPOSTER KILLING MOTORISTS: What do you do if you are pulled over by a law enforcement officer in an unmarked car?
In Mississippi, you should probably keep driving. Northern MS authorities suspect a series of highway deaths may be attributed to a man posing as a police officer who directs motorists to pull over and then shoots them. Click here for details.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


 If you are one of the three Americans who haven’t seen this Time Magazine cover yet, well…now you have. Is your life any richer for it? Probably not. Does the picture make you want to drop what you’re doing and run out and buy the magazine? Not likely. Do you feel sorry for that kid who will now have to go through the rest of his life with this picture neatly tucked away in storage somewhere? Uh…yeah.

 If you’re wondering why this tried and true news magazine that dates to 1923 would stoop this low just to get your attention, as usual the numbers tell the story: In the second half of 2011 Time Magazine lost 3.4 percent of its newsstand sales, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, an independent organization which provides circulation audits print publications and website activity. Paid circulation decreased 0.5 percent to 3.3 million, and if you need some perspective on this, just know that one decade ago, the recorded circulation was 4.2 million.

We’re just not rushing home to our mailboxes anymore anxiously awaiting our news magazines. I’m not sure the last time I bought a Time Magazine, are you? Who needs it? I’m reading everything I need to read online. And even though I was a late entrant into the “smartphone” universe, now I’m even reading some of it on my phone. If there are particular topic areas in which I’m deeply interested, I can set up an app on the phone to “poke” me instantly when news happens. It’s a journalistic world of immediacy and instant information. I love it, and so do most of you, but guess who doesn’t love it? Time Magazine.

Oh, and if you thought Newsweek was any happier than Time about digital instant gratification, think again. Here is this week’s Newsweek cover.
Obviously it references President Obama’s endorsement of legalizing gay marriage, but “The First Gay President?” Come on. I guess it’s better than a mockup of the President officiating the marriage of two men or two women, although something tells me that idea was probably kicked around the Newsweek offices last week.

This is simply another indication of the desperation print media is experiencing. ABC reports that just as Time is involuntarily shedding readers, so is Newsweek. Newsweek reported a 1.8 percent decline in paid circulation to 1.52 million copies in the second half of 2011. What we are witnessing here is the print magazine industry trying everything it can just to stay relevant, even as the 24-hour news cycle makes magazine content obsolete before it hits the newsstands.

 What’s that you said? “Desperate times call for desperate measures?” How about this? Desperate times call for smarter integration of traditional and digital media. Stunts like this week’s Time and Newsweek covers serve only to alert the reading public that magazines are in stunning decline. When a news publication resorts to sensationalism, whether visual or editorial, to persuade us to buy its product, the magazine is treading water. The Time cover is unique, but by this point in our collective editorial consciousness, it is not shocking, and it seems shock value was the intention here. And what about good old editorial judgment? Is this really the main story of the week that should be featured on Time’s cover?

The Time editors claim the story about weaning children from breast feeding is in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the publication of Dr. Bill Sears book, “The Baby Book.” Really? And how is that worthy of a Time cover?

As a journalist, my reaction to both of these magazine covers is simply that I cannot take either publication seriously when they do this sort of thing. Unfortunately, they each do it more often now than ever in the history of their magazines, and it only serves to cause me to pay less attention to their publications. Some perspective: Last week, France ousted its president; our own President said gay people should be able to get married; JP Morgan announced an unprecedented $2 billion loss in its trading operation; major revelations came to light in the John Edwards trial; the CEO of Yahoo admitted lying on his resume; and, in Mexico, 49 decapitated bodies were strewn on a highway outside of Monterey. Still, TIME went with breastfeeding and NEWSWEEK put a rainbow halo on Obama’s head.

 It may not be great journalism, but it does provide great fodder for satirists. Will Ferrell’s hosting gig on NBC’s Saturday Night Live last week may not go down as one of the all-time greats, but Seth Meyers’ “Weekend Update” bit on the Time cover just might. Watch:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


TRENDING NOW is a new Greenberg Rants feature that links you to the best online reporting of five of this week’s biggest news stories. Here we go:  

THE JOHN EDWARDS TRIAL: The best daily reporting of the Edwards trial is found on Daily Beast, where reporter Diane Dimond is in the courtroom listening to testimony every day. Dimond’s reporting offers readers a true “you are there” perspective. It was Dimond who reported that the late Elizabeth Edwards publicly confronted her husband in an airport over his affair with Rielle Hunter, and experienced a breakdown in the presence of campaign employees. Her daily reports are thorough and concise.
SANTORUM’S WEAK ENDORSEMENT OF MITT ROMNEY: Former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum oddly sent out a late night email on May 7 endorsing the presumptive Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Let’s remember Santorum is the guy who publicly stated that Mitt Romney was the "worst Republican in the country for the GOP to put up against President Obama in November." In his endorsement, which you can read in full at Politico you will notice Santorum reiterates that he and Romney have real differences of opinion, but he is still harping on social issues rather than the nuts and bolts issues Americans care about, Santorum says, “We certainly agree that abortion is wrong and marriage should be between one man and one woman.”

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN CAME OUT IN SUPPORT OF GAY MARRIAGE THIS WEEK: “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties,” said the vice-president. The New York Times did a nice job covering Biden’s rather blatant departure from the Obama administration’s stated opinion on the issue. The White House was quick to downplay Biden’s outspoken support, reiterating that Obama’s thinking on this issue is “still evolving.”  

CAN SUPERHEROES SAVE THE FILM INDUSTRY? “The Avengers,” one of the most highly anticipated feature films in recent history, broke all box office records this week with a $200 million first week opening, the highest in box office history. How Disney and Marvel pulled this off, and how they prevented it from leaking online to any great extent is the subject of a good story at The Hollywood Reporter.

 SECOND MASSEUR FILES SEXUAL BATTERY SUIT AGAINST JOHN TRAVOLTA: It was big news on May 7 that actor John Travolta had been sued for sexually assault a male masseur. Travolta’s attorney, Marty Singer announced Travolta
vehemently denies the accusations. However, by the next day, a second masseur, in a different city filed a similar suit. Each suit asks for damages in the amount of $2 million. Radar Online is so far doing the lead reporting on this story, complete with a copy of the formal complaint.

Monday, May 7, 2012


Consider the case of Florida mother Marissa Alexander, who has been in jail since 2010. Alexander's abusive husband was reportedly threatening to kill her and chasing her in their home when she tried to escape through the garage. But the door jammed, and Marissa was cornered, so she grabbed a pistol and shot it in the air. Alexander was ultimately sentenced to a mandatory 20 years in prison for assault with a deadly weapon.

 Alexander’s husband had reportedly abused her physically on multiple occasions. He even admits it in a deposition from 2010, in which he says: ““I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one. The way I was with women they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know they never knew what I was thinking or what I might do. Hit them, push them.” The 2010 deposition followed one particularly rough incident that resulted in Alexander obtaining a restraining order against her husband. Now she faces a couple of decades in prison for the gun incident that happened just several days after she had given birth to their child. Alexander (left)
went to court to invoke her rights to defend herself under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. That’s the same law George Zimmerman will use to defend his actions against Trayvon Martin. The big difference? We know that Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, and he’s out of jail right now on $150,000 bond. Conversely, we know that Alexander didn’t kill anybody, and didn’t even point the gun at her abuser, but she’s locked up.

The justice system is as imperfect a concept as can be. TIME Magazine’s April 30, 2012 issue neatly summed up the arbitrary nature of judicially-imposed punishment in this case: “Is Marissa Alexander a threat to society? Does the public benefit from her being in prison? Are we safer? Should a shot into the ceiling that hit no one and that was intended to help protect an embattled domestic-abuse victim who possessed the gun legally be punished with 20 years in prison? Should her children grow up without a mom? Is this the America you want to live in?”

 If there is one phrase we hear over and over again from attorneys who appear on cable talk shows,
it is, "We just have to let the system do its job. The system works." But does the system really work? If it does, why are innocent people suffering at the hands of individuals charged to enforce the legal and judicial system? A number of recent incidents and legal cases are instilling doubt in those of us who would like to believe the system does indeed work. Some of these cases are not front page news. They are not Trayvon Martin or Daniel Chong (the young man who was locked in a holding cell and forgotten for five days by the DEA) types of cases.

 Scroll up to the top of this page, and right under Greenberg Rants you will see the six subject areas for which this blog exists. Of those, the most important topic to the Greenberg in Greenberg Rants is justice. And what makes my blood boil is blatant injustice. While I do not claim to be a legal scholar, I do indeed pride myself on being a keen observer of cultural inconsistencies. “Cultural inconsistencies” is a nice way of saying arbitrary judgments that do not fit in with written law or legal precedents. My guess is that Florida Circuit Court Judge James Daniel, the man who refused to allow Alexander to invoke “Stand Your Ground,” has seen any number of other domestic abuse cases and not subjected the victim to this type of indignity, and yes…injustice.

Most of us who grew up in my generation were indoctrinated to American life this way: The U.S. government will protect you. Was it true? Yes and no. Katrina and its aftermath taught me that the government cannot be relied on for protection when the biggest catastrophes happen. We were also brought up to believe that justice prevails in America. Really? Try telling that to the parents of Robert Champion (above, left), the Florida A & M marching band member who was hazed to death last November.

 Robert Champion was beaten to death by his fellow band members, who were participating in a ritual the band had evidently practiced for some years. The coroner’s autopsy revealed the cause of death was blunt force trauma. Last week it was revealed that 13 fellow band members would be charged with “felony hazing.” Not murder. Not manslaughter. Not involuntary manslaughter. “Felony hazing.” His parents are outraged at the injustice. Watch:
Here are a couple of interesting variables that could (should?) turn this case on its judicial head: First, Robert Champion was gay. That has already raised the curiosity of some observers, who wonder if his death was the result of a hate crime. And if it was a hate crime and Champion’s civil rights were violated, then this is a Federal case, rather than one that will slowly wind its way through Florida’s judicial system. Second, Champion had spoken out against hazing in an organization that is rich with hazing history. So, was he targeted because he wouldn’t go along to get along? And how will we ever know the answers to these questions, since we were not on that chartered bus in which he was beaten? The prosecutor, as you saw in the video, has decided it’s not a murder case because one decisive death blow cannot be pinpointed and assigned to one of the accused. Why then, cannot all of the accused be charged with murder, since they all participated in the beating that caused his death?

 Justice in 21st century America, it seems, is a relative, rather than absolute concept. It will be most interesting to see how the Federal government handles the case of the aforementioned Daniel Chong. Chong, a San Diego college student, was arrested on April 21 when the Feds raided a party where illegal drug use was suspected. Chong was taken to a temporary detention center where he was locked up in a holding cell. Then, inexplicably, the DEA completely forgot about him. He was left in the cell for five days, with no food or water, no toilet and no human contact. He later reported that he hallucinated in the cell and resorted to drinking his own urine. When he was finally discovered after those five days he had to be rushed to a hospital where he experienced kidney failure. Listen to Chong describe his ordeal:

First, if we’re going to arrest every college student who smokes a joint at a college party, we may as well shut down our university system. Class attendance will be mighty sparse. Second, how does a detention center not have procedures in place to check on those being held there? And finally, keep your eye on Daniel Chong, who just filed a $20 million lawsuit against the DEA. Will the suit reveal systematic weaknesses in the DEA? Is Chong’s experience, as the DEA wants us to believe, an isolated incident? Will the government compensate Chong for his near-death experience? The most likely scenario will involve a settlement and quick resolution of the debacle. If there is one thing the highly secretive DEA does not want, it is publicity.

Our justice system has gone awry. Frivolous lawsuits tie up the courts; judges make arbitrary decisions often based on their personal bias; attorneys too frequently do not inform their clients of all of their rights or options; like cases are not treated alike, resulting in uneven justice nationwide; second degree murder (meaning without premeditation) is often reduced to manslaughter.

Just as critical now is the fact that victims like Alexander, Champion and Chong are treated with a complete lack of dignity during their path through the justice system. It seems clear that Alexander would be dead by now, had she not “stood her ground.” Chong probably came within hours of dying. And Champion? He was murdered by his peers, and the worst part is that the maximum sentence any of them can receive is six years in prison. The highest bail any of them paid was $15,000. That is not justice in America. The system is not working.