May 23, 2007
"Internet accounts have exaggerated aspects of the crime"
In what is described as "their first extensive interview" with the AP, the family of rape and murder victim Channon Christian are saying that the Internet mutilation accounts are exaggerated:
The Christians said Internet accounts have exaggerated aspects of the crime, particularly accounts that the victims were mutilated. "Seventy-five percent of the stuff you are reading on the Internet is fallacies," Gary Christian said. "They are stretching it out of proportion. (Though) it was horrific and they were tortured."There's no question that they were tortured, but an important question is how far that torture went beyond the kidnaping, rape, and murder. While a lot of people are reciting a lot of grotesque details, I have spent a great deal of time trying to verify the numerous allegations of pre-mortem sexual mutilation, without success. As best as I can determine, the earliest recital of the claims was by a notorious racist named Hal Turner, but the first actual journalist to report the claim was the University of Marlyand's Stefanie Williams. Other than that, trying to verify the allegations is an exercise in futility. Links simply go to other links which go nowhere.
The more people link these words, though, the more the mutually-linked words appear to be true, because of the nature of the Internet. This is not new (and I've seen it before), but whenever I see it, I try to point it out. There was a nonexistent retired political science professor (and former Nixon and Reagan official) named "George Harleigh," and there was the notorious Air Force Regulation 160-23. Both were alive on the Internet, but nowhere to be found in reality. (I consider it a sort of "blogger responsibility" to point such things out when I run across them, but I also see it as an individual human responsibility -- one arising out of the natural distaste I feel when I am being lied to.)
In logic, of course, the inability to verify something does not mean that it did not happen or does not exist. On the other hand, should people be reciting unverifiable information and claiming it constitutes facts? I don't think so -- especially when the allegations are highly imflammatory, and involve a case which has not yet gone to trial.
The Christian family's claim that the facts are exaggerated made me think of something else so obvious I don't know why it never occurred to me before, and that is this: if the pre-mortem sexual mutilation occurred, why aren't any of the suspects being charged with it?
I haven't researched the law, but I'm pretty sure it is illegal in Tennessee to sexually mutilate living people, whether by cutting off penises or cutting off breasts. If there is any evidence that such crimes committed, why hasn't anyone been charged with the crimes? It's not as if there hasn't been enough time to conduct detailed medical examinations. If I may speculate for the sake of argument, if we assume the horrific pre-mortem mutilation occurred, for some reason the authorities in Tennessee are failing to charge anyone with the crime. (And they're covering it up as well.) Unless additional charges are pending, this doesn't make sense.
Again, I wish people would stop reciting things that cannot be verified, because it isn't helping what is a very serious case.
Those who complain about the lack of media coverage ought to be especially concerned.
Again, facts matter.
(Even on the Internet.)
UPDATE: I have just received an email from Stefanie Williams, who believes that I treated her unfairly:
Since I see you made it a point to cover what I sad in my e-mail inFair enough. I'm not playing self righteous blogger here, but I wish I'd had a reply earlier. If Ms. Williams does not consider herself a journalist, fine. Lots of people were relying on her column, which was one of the few sources cited by links that went anywhere at all. It struck me as the only reliable report in existence, and I looked. I never accused her of lying, nor hypocrisy, nor having an agenda, nor did I ever insinuate a connection to David Duke or the Klan. I only wanted to verify these reports.
As to Cash Michaels and Wendy Murphy, I haven't written about them, and maybe I should. There are a lot of things I've never written about and maybe should.
While I don't think all of the above criticism is well-founded, I decided to post this in order to be fair to Ms. Williams.
I'd still like to know the facts, though.
AND MORE: Yesterday, Glenn Reynolds linked a column by the distinguished John Leo -- a journalist by any standard, for whom I have the highest respect and whom I have cited in this blog on a number of occasions. Writing in the New York Sun, here's what John Leo says:
Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23, were out on a dinner date in Knoxville, Tenn., on January 6, when they were carjacked, kidnapped, raped, tortured, sexually mutilated, and killed.While John Leo is right to criticize the mainstream press for not wanting to report this story, he is himself reciting the unverified facts -- which are (in my opinion) the most emotionally inflammatory details in the case. Considering John Leo's status as a sort of senior statesman in the business, the fact that he did the same thing that Stefanie Williams did hardly makes her look bad; the only difference is that she wrote about the details before John Leo did.
While I wish they'd both said "according to unverified reports," I'd still like to know whose "reports" they were, because knowing the source of the reports is an aid in evaluating their possible validity.
It is still possible that they'll turn out to be true.
But if (as Nicholas Stix condends) they in fact originated with the notorious Hal Turner, I think that's unlikely.
Similarly, claims made over the Internet that the couple were sexually mutilated are "absolutely not true," John Gill, special assistant to District Attorney Randy Nichols, said Friday.I don't know how to confirm that, but if it is legitimate (as it appears to be) people should just stop reciting these allegations.
MORE: A web site called the Council of Conservative Citizens is taking issue with Assistant District Attorney Gill's claim that the couple was not sexually mutilated:
Assistant District Attorney John Gill claims that the couple was not sexually mutilated. Well, John Gill, what do you call hacking off a woman's breasts and a man's penis while they are still alive? While the details of the crime have not been widely reported, they are well documented. Christian was forced to watch her boyfriend brutally tortured and then shot. She was then raped repeatedly for four days and tortured until she died. The suspects are also alleged to have purchased Viagra so they could continue raping the girl. Truly this was one of the most horrific hate crimes in US history.I guess this means that according to some people, the failure to file torture charges and the denial of sexual mutilation is all part of a coverup. If the details "are well documented," please, tell me where.
Show me one document!
MORE: I'm now accused of "defending" the awful perpetrators in the comments below. Far from it; I hope they get the death penalty, and I certainly hope the circulation of inflammatory rumors doesn't help the defendants.
It's beginning to look like some people care less about the facts (and less about the prosecution's case, even) than their partisan interests.
UPDATE (06/03/07): I just returned from vacation and found this email from Stefanie Williams, the text of which I thought merited an update:
So as I am on summer break, our news editions don't begin until June
posted by Eric on 05.23.07 at 10:57 AM
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