Opinion Editorial

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but I don’t care at what temperature justice is served, it just needs to be served. In the latest twist of the Michelle Gardener-Quinn story, it looks as though Seven Days wants a justice hungry community to starve. According to Rooney’s defense there is no way he can receive a fair trial because he has already been tried and convicted by the media thus tainting the potential jury pool and violating his constitutional right to a trial by a fair and impartial jury of his peers. Everyone has a right to a fair trial, with a competent defense, but the new question in the information age is: does media influence public opinion, or does public opinion influence the media? It is absurd to demand that the State’s Attorney possess the burden of providing a jury from a tight knit community, that is both competent enough to judge the fate of a fellow man or woman, and at the same time, ignorant of community issues. However, this is exactly what Rooney’s lawyers are calling for. Or is it? Seven Days decided to come out of its proverbial shell on the Michelle Gardener-Quinn story to publish an op-ed written by an “anonymous cop.” The piece was a scathing attack laden with statements proclaiming Rooney’s guilt. The Burlington Free Press later released the information that it was in fact an FBI agent who wrote the article. FBI agents have a unique position in society. Agents in the Federal Bureau of Investigation uphold our highest ideals of truth and integrity. They are the men and women who are supposed to identify and bring the bad guys to justice. This gives their opinions a privileged position in society, which is why FBI agents are called to testify at trials and not the layperson. They are meant to be experts in matters of guilt and innocence. Given the privileged status of FBI agents’ opinions, the broadcasting of their personal views becomes a situation where the media has attempted to influence public opinion. By printing an op-ed that was written by a local FBI agent calling Rooney “a man who preys on the vulnerable in the dark places like some kind of two-legged hyena,” Seven Days has opened the trial on Rooney and already called its first witness. It may be hard for a paper with no news section to keep up with current events, but someone in their offices needs to be aware that the trial on Rooney has not begun. Most community members have been following the news and can form opinions around the mounting pile of evidence against Rooney, and some of those community members may even write into local opinion sections. If those opinions accuse Rooney of guilt, it is okay because it is an example of the community speaking through the media. But when an FBI agent, or even a local cop, shares his opinion through the media, it is fundamentally more persuasive then if it had come from a common citizen. Consequently that opinion has a shaping effect on the audience. It is the job of the community as a whole to ensure that justice is preserved. Furthermore, the media has the responsibility to act as a conduit of information, and not as the judge and jury of the accused (no matter how tempting it may be). The media should have learned this lesson from the O.J. Simpson trial, but sadly it has not. Because of the irresponsibility of the media, justice in our world has been compromised once again. It is a shame that it is now left for a judge to weigh the cost of performing a potentially impartial trial against the benefit of bringing Michelle’s killer to justice.