Verdicting It Up

Verdicting It Up

Verdicting It Up

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 24 1997 7:23 AM

Verdicting It Up

The Terry Nichols verdict leads all around. USA Today calls the conviction on conspiracy and manslaughter counts but acquittal on 1st-degree murder charges "a surprising compromise." The New York Times calls the result "a nuanced verdict." The Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal emphasize that the decision considerably lessens the likelihood that Nichols will be condemned to death.

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USAT says that inside the courtroom, relatives of victims "appeared crestfallen" at the news. The NYT finds them "stunned." The dailies are relentless in their programmatic use of "balancing" language to describe family reactions--"many" are angry, "some" are shocked, etc.--despite producing no family members saying the verdicts are just. Instead, when it comes to particulars, we have everybody quoting the comment of a woman whose Secret Service agent husband was killed in the Oklahoma blast: "It was a slap in the face."

The reactions noted are often incisive as well as anguished. A woman who lost two small grandsons tells the NYT, "Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh conspired for seven months to blow up that building. That's not involuntary manslaughter. That's first-degree murder." Similarly, a woman who lost a daughter is quoted in USAT and the Washington Post saying, "He conspired to build the bomb; what the hell did they think he was going to do with it!" In the WP and NYT and USAT stories, the juxtaposition of these expressions of dissatisfaction with President Clinton's remark that the verdicts "should offer a measure of comfort" makes Clinton look particularly tin-eared.

When the papers strive to make sense of the verdict, they tend to look that way too. The Times says that the manslaughter verdicts mean that the jury held that the deaths were foreseeable results of a lawful act. But what was that lawful act? The NYT doesn't say. (Surely not helping to build a bomb.) Similarly, the Times editorial on the Nichols decision ably frames the puzzle: "At first blush it seems contradictory to find that Mr. Nichols was guilty of conspiring in the bombing, a crime that seems to have required premeditation, but then not to find him guilty of first-degree, or premeditated, murder. Involuntary manslaughter usually involves recklessness but not premeditation." But then the paper trots out a dubious answer: "Still, that may be a reasonable decision in that Mr. Nichols may not have planned that the bomb be set off with the purpose of killing these agents." But what alternative purpose did he have? Not one word in all the coverage about that.

The WSJ comes closest here, venturing that the jury must have accepted Nichols's defense that he had abandoned the plot before the explosion. But neither the Journal nor the other papers pass along any information that makes such a possibility plausible.

The Post makes a rookie mistake in referring to the jury's "innocent" verdicts. It's "Not Guilty," not "Innocent."

The NYT front carries word of a clearer resolution to another terrorism case: the conviction in France of Carlos "The Jackal"--once the world's most feared terrorist--of three murders. The Post runs this on p.8.

The WSJ reports that Newt Gingrich, in an obvious bid to plug holes in the C-SPAN spring schedule (that damned yellow bus has to go in the shop for a tune-up sometime), is poised to launch investigations into White House and DNC activities that could involve fully half of the House's committees.

The WP states that the University of Iowa College of Medicine reports that people who are blind, deaf or have other disabilities are 36 percent more likely to be injured on the job. The paper also reports that today's issue of JAMA contains the news that although more than 90 percent of infants don't get anesthesia when they are circumcised, they should get it because "study of infant heart rates and crying patterns during circumcision clearly showed there was pain." So, to sum up today's scientific breakthroughs: a) If you're blind avoid working in sawmills and b) Getting your brand-new knicky-knacks carved on HURTS LIKE HELL!