Cloudy, With A Chance of Shitty Journalism

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87 Responses

  1. Clark says:

    > Journalists, please. You can do better.

    Have you MET many journalists? Most of them CAN'T do better.

    …also, how did we get on the topic of journalism? I thought we were talking about Gawker and Alternet.

  2. AlphaCentauri says:

    I'm completely ignorant about this, but where do grand juries come in? At what point does a prosecutor have to present a case to normal citizens and have to convince them the charges are reasonable?

    I hear about them being used in cases with frightened witnesses or inflammatory charges, to substitute for public preliminary hearings, but who gets to pick which cases have them?

  3. Jay says:

    "Journalists, please. You can do better."

    No, they really cannot. But don't get me started, Ken.

  4. Ken says:

    Alpha:

    Because it's a misdemeanor it need not be presented to the grand jury. It would be prosecuted by "information," which looks like an indictment.

  5. John Ammon says:

    I was going to say what Clark said, but he said it first…

    Curses! A pox upon Clark!

  6. Eric R. says:

    Really, Ken, if they could do better they wouldn't be journalists. At least not in today's sensationalism sells culture. I think the real problem are the people who read comparisons like this and thoughtlessly react with, "OMG!! That's horrible! Our system is so f&%'d up!" instead of engaging what remains of their brains and thinking, "There's probably something here that I'm missing. I wonder what it is?" Most people are happy to be spoon-fed their "news" rather than critically thinking about the information they receive.

  7. Dan Weber says:

    Clark Kent, mild-manner reporter?

  8. tas says:

    It adds absolutely nothing to the understanding of either Casimir's case or the Steubenville case, or criminal justice in general.

    Before posting a comment, I searched your site to see if I could find any posts by you that adds understanding and context to the Steubenville case, but my search turned up negative.

    Given the lack of result, I could turn on the trolling jets full blast and excoriate you for complaining about how journalists cover the case when you haven't touched it, but you seem intelligent and being mean hardly ever results in the positive. So, if you have anything to discuss regarding the Steubenville case and why two perpetrators of a violent crime received incredibly light sentences (yes, that's a leading statement — but it's also the truth, as far as I'm concerned), I'll read it. If you don't, then I won't consider your blog to be worth my time for reading, trolling or anything else.

  9. Dirkmaster says:

    Just to play devil's advocate for awhile (and because I want to cross every t and dot every i) how available is that chart? Is it something that the courts give out? Or is it something you have because you are a lawyer? While I CERTAINLY agree that the state of journalism has deteriorated lately, I'm don't know that it's fair to expect them to know this rather specialized piece of knowledge.

  10. Kilroy says:

    Well past weeping for the 4th branch of government.

  11. CTD says:

    I do enjoy that one Gawker commenter, less-eloquently making your the same point, referred to the rest as "illiterate outage queens."

  12. Ken says:

    @Dirkmaster: it is available online, available in every law library, available in every federal sentencing publication, available in every handbook about federal criminal law, and has been used in (nearly) every federal sentencing for a quarter of a century.

  13. Kilroy says:

    Now I'm weeping for tas and his poor understanding of the justice system and blogging in general.

  14. Marc McNaughton says:

    Can they do better? Yes, of course they can. But they won't do better, because doing better doesn't sell ad space, and it doesn't sell subscription and, in today's world, "doing better" doesn't get shared umteen-million times on Facebook, generating through-clicks for the "paper".

    Objectively reporting "Woman accused of stealing meatballs – might get probation" isn't going to drive enough eyeballs to make a reporter get noticed by his/her editor, and help their career. Non-objectively (but breathlessly) reporting "Woman accused of stealing meatballs might get more time in prison than a (famous) rapist!!!" gets the reporter, the news agency, and their shareholders everything they want.

    The incentives aren't there to do objective reporting. For that, you have to rely upon that endangered species named "integrity".

  15. Jack B. says:

    The West Point people might want to check the freezer's strawberry inventory while they're at it.

  16. anon says:

    Ok, it's shitty reporting, but I can't really get too up-in-arms about calling attention to ridiculous maximum sentences, when it's pretty clear that the purpose of said ridiculous maximum sentences is to up the ante (or at least the perceived ante) of going to trial so high that taking the plea bargain is the rational choice, regardless of guilt or innocence.

    Sure, they're highlighting a problem for the wrong reason (actual likely sentence vs plea bargain leverage), but that seems preferable to not highlighting it at all. And I do think that trying to explain the right reason to oppose huge maximum sentences isn't going to work for the vast majority of the population that they're writing for, who have been primed all their lives to trust that law enforcement wouldn't place an innocent person in that situation.

  17. Dan Weber says:

    Remember: unless you get upset about everything, you aren't allowed to be upset about anything.

  18. Dan Browning says:

    Touche, Ken. Reporting statutory maximums without the recommended sentence is misleading to the readers.

  19. Terry Towels says:

    Heh. Another blog I read was set up solely to correct media misinformation about science.

    Back in the stone ages (before computers) I had to attend public meetings (for business reasons), and the stories I read in the papers the next day had absolutely nothing to do with the meeting I had attended the night before. It was strange and weird, and was when I stopped paying attention to the news other than for "what's the topic of conversation going to be today?"

  20. Dan Weber says:

    Terry, you'd probably like this:

    Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

    In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read

  21. JonMChe says:

    I think it is valid to mention the maximum statutory sentence for a crime in a news article, even when the likely sentence would be far less, because it is the fear of that maximum sentence that will be used to bludgeon the accused into a plea bargain. I Absolutely agree however, that failing to put that information in context is malpractice.

  22. Ken says:

    This would be competent: "Although the defendant faces a maximum sentence of two years, federal sentences are calculated under a set of complex guidelines that usually yield sentences much shorter than the maximum. The prosecution and defense would not comment on the defendant's likely sentence, but attorney E. Gar Phoneanswerer, a federal criminal practitioner, said she would likely face probation."

  23. Dirkmaster says:

    @Ken Well, okay then. I guess that pretty much removes the last possible option other than lazy POS. Thanx!

  24. SarahW says:

    TWIST: she saved cadets from horsemeat poisoning.

  25. I think what makes this even worse is that this isn't even just a matter of laziness.

    Laziness caused them to fail to discover or disclose the fact that, no, this woman – regardless of whether her prosecution is a waste of resources – is not facing up to two years in prison in any meaningful sense.

    But what makes this far worse than a matter of mere laziness is that the outrage isn't over the possibility that this woman faces two years in prison; instead, the outrage is primarily directed at the fact that this is longer than the Steubenville defendants received.

    The problems with that comparison aren't just attributable to laziness – the comparison is just outright dishonest. These outrage merchants are, by their own terms, making a direct comparison between a maximum possible sentence and an actual sentence, and then claiming this comparison proves the absurdity of our criminal justice system (which, as a point of fact, is indeed absurd). This is, to say the least, an apples and oranges comparison, and not just because it requires a comparison between juvenile criminal justice and adult criminal justice. I'm really struggling how a claim that a theoretically possible sentence for one crime says something about an actual sentence for another crime can be viewed as anything other than horribly dishonest.

  26. Bear says:

    I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that they actually busted a kitchen worker for theft of meatballs. Back in the '90s at one particular Air Farce base, chow workers routinely walked out with whole hams and boxes of frozen steaks and pork chops. And they weren't even bright enough to update the menu to reflect the loss (one weekend all the hams were stolen; the chow then served turkey slices which they insisted were actually cured ham; lots of grumbling but most people were glad to have gotten even the turkey instead of the usual chili mac made with TVP because all the ground beef had also disappeared).

    I suppose, if she's found guilty, they could sentence this woman to eating in the chow hall.

  27. jim says:

    The NCIS episode we'll never see:"grab your gear." "Where're we going ,Boss?" "Naval academy-missing meatballs"

  28. Nate says:

    I generally read gawker for my daily dose of snark and for the comments which are often just as entertaining/informative as the article itself. However, I deliberately chose not to read the particular article in question due to what I understood about sentencing from a previous Popehat post. Progress, problem, or both?

    Also can we shame the journalism industry into being less lazy/fact check more/report accurately? (My most recent rant at work: Cherries contain the same anti-inflammatory enzymes as ibuprofen. (From DETAILS (magazine) via MSN Healthy Living). The only true thing in that entire sentence is that cherries have been suggested to have an anti-inflammatory effect. Ibuprofen is not an enzyme. So yeah, what Terry and Dan said.)

  29. goober says:

    I read "journalists please" in the same way you'd read the "bitch please!" Internet meme. It actually added a lot to my enjoyment of the article. You should all tryit

  30. Lucy says:

    What a wonderful thing it would be if " journalism malpractice" were a real life thing that carried maximum sentences.

    But then there's that first amendment thing.

    I read somewhere recently about how pharmaceuticals could be marketed for things they are not prescribed for under the first amendment.

    I'm torn about it.

    Thank you for the graphic, and the more speech approach.

  31. JWH says:

    Would their value exceed $5,000 if they are stealth-enabled drone meatballs?

  32. Goober says:

    Tas – you have failed at the internets today. Either that or basic reading comprehension, one or the other. Drop and give me one hundred million push-ups.

  33. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    The problem here isn't shoddy research; journalism has always had that. The problem is the inability to write a story that could actually catch and engage the attention of an adult who was free of brain damage. The reporting of the First World War, the Lindbergh kidnapping, and the Sacco and Vanzetti trial (to name three) was as shoddy as regards to facts, but it was written well enough that only historians care.

  34. AlphaCentauri says:

    Seems like Ken's not having trouble getting new readers despite limiting himself to the facts.

  35. Lucy says:

    I think maybe the goal of journalists, and the titles of their articles, are to get as many shares on fb as possible. Friends can prove they are not stupid sheeple like the rest of their friends, by sharing shock titles from sources like "alternet". Must not be mainstream with a name like that, therefore more valid.

  36. cynumber9 says:

    I see this all the time on the Twitter. Once a report is made on the length of sentence one could get then it spreads like wildfire. And mainly because that inaccuracy is coupled with a comparison of a more 'evil' crime (e.g. Steuby). I've directed some to your whale sushi piece but will probably start to ignore.

  37. Joe Pullen says:

    So, if you have anything to discuss regarding the Steubenville case and why two perpetrators of a violent crime received incredibly light sentences . . ., I'll read it. If you don't, then I won't consider your blog to be worth my time for reading, trolling or anything else.

    @tas – we'll miss you really we will.

    @SarahW – ha ha good one.

    @AlphaCentari – indeed.

  38. Colin says:

    So… from this article: assuming that the "journalists" were correct in the fact that the Steubenville Rapist *actually received* a sentence of 2 years (I know this is a bit of a stretch), we can discern that, under the Federal Guidelines, rape is at most a level 17 crime.

    Of course, that would mean that the Steubenville rapist was charged under Federal law (which I doubt) and not under local state law.

  39. orvis barfley says:

    It adds absolutely nothing to the understanding of either Casimir's case or the Steubenville case, or criminal justice in general.

    it also does nothing for the woeful standing of today's journalists.  not that yesterday's journalists were much better, but it always amazes me to see a journalist demand respect that he or she is not willing to earn.

  40. Jeff says:

    Colin: you're incorrect. The Stebenville rapists were juvenile. They were sentenced according to juvenile procedures of Ohio.

    Anon: is a 2 year max sentence really that unreasonable? At some point, prosecutors have to have flexibility in what they charge. What if someone stole things that have little monetary value, but a lot of sentimental value? I imagine a prosecutor would want more than the presumptive 0-6 months. What if someone has a lot of criminal history, and they've done this before? Sentencing them the same that they got last time doesn't work.

    I'll be the first to point out some of the ludicrous problems in the USSG, but I don't think this is one of them.

  41. Ken says:

    @tas:

    Before posting a comment, I searched your site to see if I could find any posts by you that adds understanding and context to the Steubenville case, but my search turned up negative.

    Sorry, tas. I was too preoccupied with helping to find pro bono counsel for people sued for commenting about the injustices in Steubenville, which had a good outcome.

    Given the lack of result, I could turn on the trolling jets full blast and excoriate you for complaining about how journalists cover the case when you haven't touched it, but you seem intelligent and being mean hardly ever results in the positive. So, if you have anything to discuss regarding the Steubenville case and why two perpetrators of a violent crime received incredibly light sentences (yes, that's a leading statement — but it's also the truth, as far as I'm concerned), I'll read it. If you don't, then I won't consider your blog to be worth my time for reading, trolling or anything else.

    Is your position really "you shouldn't criticize shitty journalism on a subject unless you have written something better about it?"

    I guess it's an ethos.

  42. mojo says:

    What, no strawberries?

  43. Jack B. says:

    Is your position really "you shouldn't criticize shitty journalism on a subject unless you have written something better about it?"

    In tas's defense, a search of the site reveals that this is the first time you've written about meatballs, so the entire article is suspect, really. Shit, even infowars.com has two meatball-related articles, so they're obviously twice as trustworthy as Popehat.

  44. Blah says:

    And it means that Ken is the end-all be-all authority on ponies.

  45. The Muffin Man says:

    Something that should be noted is that the Gawker Media-owned sites (Gawker, Kotaku, Lifehacker, to a lesser extent Deadspin) take the "TMZ" approach to "journalism"; that is to make the most sensationalistic content possible and only back down when they are called out by someone bigger than them.

    Those who understand this policy taken by these site's parent companies know to either discredit stories on them or double-check them with reputable sources. Unfortunately, many don't, and take in the sensationalistic tabloid stuff as reality.

  46. Fred says:

    I've read Alternet since 2005 just for giggles. That site ain't journalism, no matter how you cut it.

  47. Shawn Young says:

    I understand the sensationalism (two year sentence!) is wildly inaccurate. Point well made, as so many are on this site. That said, if the government wants to charge people for stealing a bags of meatballs, the government deserves all the crap it gets, full stop.

    There's an expression that's crept into our language that we can't really blame the journalists for: "Are you really going to make a Federal Case out of this???" If the answer is "yes"–well, let them have it with both sensationalist, inaccurate barrels.

  48. Owen says:

    This may be highly improper, but I would like to point out a comment that Ken made on Reddit to a dimwitted malcontent arguing against his conclusions in this post:

    Dimwitted Malcontent: "[If she gets convicted of the maximum sentence] I highly doubt anyone will review a sentence for stealing a bag of meatballs. Not unless the thief in question is well-connected."

    Ken: "Actually, someone convicted in federal court has a statutory right to appeal. Of course, I've only done federal criminal appeals for 18 years, and I'm kind of slow. It's entirely possible that some sort of meatball-related exception to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure exists. No doubt you can link it."

  49. Ken says:

    @Shawn:

    the government deserves all the crap it gets, full stop.

    I understand the argument. But I think that stupid criticisms crowd out, and reduce the credibility of, the good criticisms.

  50. Jeff says:

    I hate to be the government defender here, but look: the government owns a lot of stuff. Sometimes people steal that stuff. Is it not legitimate for the government to seek minor criminal penalties against those who steal its stuff? Why does the government deserve crap for this?

    Sure, does this seem like a minor crime? Of course. But it's some petty misdemeanor, and we charge those kinds of crimes in the millions across this country of ours. Is the government supposed to let people steal its stuff if it's below a certain value? What kind of message does that send to thieves?

    I recall a good story when I was working at a State court in MA. MA had changed its sentencing laws for marijuana. The law was changed to make the cut off for the highest sentencing grade to 50 lbs. Guess how much pot the mid-level distributors got caught with from then on? 49 lbs. The point is: criminals and responsive to the change in law. If the federal government announced that some dollar amount was below what they would charge, people would steal below that amount . If they announced that they would not charge for stealing frozen foodstuffs, people would steal frozen foodstuffs. Now, as a purely practical, matter will the government prosecute you for stealing a very small amount? A lot of the times not, because they do a cost-benefit analysis of the cost of prosecution to the benefits of the general and specific deterrent effects of a conviction. But will they do it some of the time? Of course.

  51. anon says:

    @Dan Weber

    I respectfully decline to be pattern matched to the idiots who say "you can't complain about X because Y is more important", because I'm saying X is a net positive.

    Perhaps I wrote entirely too many words. My point was that I think it's a net positive to have clueless reporters reporting on a genuine problem for the wrong reason and with the wrong implications (likely sentence) because their audience wouldn't believe them and/or wouldn't give a shit if they tried to point out why those sentencing maximums are bad for the right reason (a plea bargain leverage point of view).

    I hadn't thought about the idea that bad criticisms would crowd out the good. I think it's broader than that, though. It's probably not bad explanations crowding out good explanations of sentencing maximums, it's bad explanations plus American Idol plus football plus neighborhood gossip – all crowding around competing for mindspace, for lack of a better word. To that end, I still think that absolutely anything that gets people to pay attention to what the justice system actually does to people is a net positive at this point, since nobody seems to notice or care except for the very occasional circus where it goes over the line and into the next galaxy, which is naturally chalked up as "just a few bad apples". That said, it's an idea I'll keep in mind as I read more of this stuff. It's a concept I hadn't thought of until now.

  52. Shawn Young says:

    @Ken: I see where you're coming from, but here's why I don't agree:

    The corollary of Andy Warhol's "15 minutes of fame" quip is that the public has a very short attention span. The corollary of THAT is that to get the attention of hoi polloi, one usually needs to be sensational.

    The Popehat blog is one of my favourite places on the Internet. Now here's my "but": Some people read both Popehat and Gawker, but I'm willing to bet the audiences are fundamentally disparate. This place is a Michelin star restaurant with long, careful articulated posts that feed the mind; Gawker is McDonalds. In making their hamburger, sometimes the best meat gets thrown out*.

    I prefer the nutritional value of Popehat. If Gawker wants to stay in business, well, it needs to spend less time carefully examining, and more time gawking.

    *I ate at McDonalds yesterday, the hamburger was great, I am in no way trying to libel McDonalds.

  53. OngChotwI says:

    Back when MS Word didn't include a macro language and the only way infections were traveling through email was as executables, not documents – the local paper published an email hoax warning about the deadly document. They took a picture of a cpu in the hands of a competitor.. and the caption was complete idiocy. They mentioned a local firm doing research on how to use the scrap organs from fish bodies could result in "billions of dollars in the drug industry" without pointing out the mountain sized pile of fish waste that would be required. (His office got damaged by someone trying to break into it that weekend.)
    It seems like most articles by people not in the field they're discussing (and some by those that are) – need links to discussions on the topic by people that actually understand the subject and can explain it to those of us that are somewhat capable of understanding. *grin*
    Is there a central site where we can link articles like these about max sentence for lifting meatballs – with a rating system like, "This reporter has a comprehension of the topic similar to a 3 month old."?

  54. Shawn Young says:

    @Jeff: Do you think it's an efficient use of your federal tax dollars, short term or long term, to charge a woman for stealing a bag of meatballs?

  55. Owen says:

    Shawn:

    Need I point out that we don't get to choose to spend our tax dollars only on things we agree with?

    Also, it's the prosecution of THEFT, which is a crime. I don't think that there is, or should be, an exception because the underlying item is a bit silly.

  56. naught_for_naught says:

    While it's right and fair to shine a light on idiocy wherever it foments, it preserves my sanity to consider this in the context of what Gawker.com is: a website for people who want to feel informed without actually having to be informed, people who want to feel progressive without ever having to question a single bias or assumption. I shake my head once for the condition of the human race and move on.

  57. Shawn Young says:

    @Owen: you are of course correct in that we do not get to choose how our tax dollars are spent. The question remains: do you think this is a wise expenditure? Do you think it's a prudent use of the court's time? Are you arguing that every incident of theft ought to be prosecuted in court?

    @naughtfornaught: Well put.

  58. Delvan Neville says:

    Preaching the choir. My sister was a journalist, now she's a lawyer. :)

  59. Nate says:

    One could argue that ALL news, regardless of source, should be read with "skepticism". What I mean by "skepticism", is while reading, one should analyze the data presented, analyze the source of the data and the method by which it was obtained, and finally determine whether or not the conclusions drawn are adequately supported by the data presented. (BTW I think it would be interesting to see a supporting information section in news sources like the New York Times or the Atlantic. It could be online only.) But "ain't nobody got time for that".

    On a lighter note, did anybody else google "meatball journalism" to see if Ken could be a reliable source regarding meatball theft?

  60. naught_for_naught says:

    >tas

    I could turn on the trolling jets full blast and excoriate you for complaining about how journalists cover the case when you haven't touched it.

    Jerk that pistol and go to work. Saber rattling is just pussy.

    Stay frosty, Ken….what time is Justified on?

  61. Terry Towels says:

    @Dan Weber • Mar 26, 2013 @11:16 am

    That's the truth. (Rosanna Roseandanna's phblt here)

    It's taken me YEARS to learn that lesson. A buddhist teacher once said "There's no such thing as a true story" in relation a very divisive issue in the buddhist community.

    I've always relied on my ninth grade science teacher's "The truth never changes; just what we know to be the truth changes".

  62. Roscoe says:

    For folks arguing that this case is to small to justify a federal prosecution, sometimes there just isn't any other recourse. If you get a parking ticket at the federal building on Wilshire Blvd., well that lot is federal property. Your only choices are to charge them as federal crimes or just let people ignore the rules.

    I once got assigned a crappy case involving some postal worker who was stealing money out of kids' birthday cards. It was 10 or 15 bucks a pop. I asked the postal inspector why they couldn't just fire the guy and be done with it. He told me that the postal workers' union is so strong that they couldn't fire him, even after he was caught red handed stealing from the mail, unless I indicted him.

  63. Jeff says:

    @Shawn Young:

    It might be, it might not be. It also depends on what kinds of theories of criminal deterrence you believe in.

    First, your premise: do you think this prosecution is costing a lot of money? I mean, yeah, a couple witness statements were maybe taken, and an AUSA wrote up an Information. I'm sure this wasn't the first, and it's from a form.

    Some people would say there's a general deterrence benefit to charging these types of crimes, to deter people from stealing. Others who ascribe to a kind of "broken window" theory would say that prosecution these crimes prevent other, more serious crimes.

    I don't think it's that hard for an AUSA to justify this sort of prosecution. After all, it ends in a plea to one count, dismissal of another, and probation.

  64. Owen says:

    Shawn:

    I hope my last comment wasn't taken as contentious. I didn't mean for it to be. I read it now and feel as though the capitalized 'THEFT' implied that I was angry, whereas I was just trying to emphasize the distinction that it remains theft, not just 'taking meatballs.' Anyway…

    Your question is, "Do you think it's a prudent use of the court's time? Are you arguing that every incident of theft ought to be prosecuted in court?"

    First, I restate Jeff's argument as if fully incorporated herein (thanks, Jeff).

    Second, I'm not going to say now and forever that I support every criminal prosecution of theft. I'm not even going to say that I support this particular prosecution – maybe, if I were the AUSA, I would tell Westpoint to go to Costco. But I'm also not going to substitute my armchair wisdom for that of an AUSA on the case. Prosecutors have discretion for a reason. And, moreover, I'm not comfortable with the idea that certain charges should not be prosecuted because they're minor, have a low monetary value, or because the titillate the press. Ideally, shouldn't we be striving for equal prosecution of all morally defensible crimes? You'll hammer out an exception for this meatball case – is that because it's meatballs? No theft of meatballs is worthy of prosecution? Or is it the value? What, if someone steals less than $100 worth of property, there's no reason to prosecute it?

    Maybe it costs more for the prosecution to convict this person than the crime cost society. In all likelihood, so does murdering a homeless person (in pure dollar terms). I'm not willing to substitute the value judgments of commentators for the experienced discretion of AUSAs.

    (I reserve the right to disagree with myself in future arguments.)

  65. Michael says:

    For what it works, I'm proudly employed as a print journalist and I think Ken nailed this one. We're not all that stupid and inflammatory.

  66. Foog says:

    We're not talking about "journalists" here. We're talking about click whores. Gawker's Neetzan Zimmerman is the most egregious shitheel ever to rake their knuckles across a keyboard, and after being tricked by his absurdly misleading headlines/ledes more than once I now refuse to click on anything that motherfucker writes. You'd be surprised at how much more accurate and intelligent Gawker becomes with a little judicious filtering.

  67. AlphaCentauri says:

    Ken's point was about the journalism, not the meatballs. In fairness, we don't know the full story. It could have been a struggling single mom taking home a bag of meatballs that are past their date which would have been thrown out anyway. Or it could have been someone who was suspected of being involved in a rash of employee thefts from her coworker's desks and lockers and who was just caught with the meatballs. Employee theft can be hard to prove and its usually not a single incident in my experience. When the food starts disappearing from the lunch room refrigerator, the cell phones will start disappearing soon.

  68. Shawn Young says:

    @Jeff and Owen: Thanks for expanding on your thoughts. I'm only speaking for myself, but I enjoy the back-and-forth of the commentariat at this site as much as I enjoy the posts. Your points are well made. Thank you.

    To just come back at Owen, briefly, Owen writes: "But I'm also not going to substitute my armchair wisdom for that of an AUSA on the case." and "I'm not willing to substitute the value judgments of commentators for the experienced discretion of AUSAs."

    OK, but that's no fun :) If we didn't substitute our own judgments for those of prosecutors, defence counsel, plaintiffs, respondents, and the bench on these pages, nobody would have anything to write about :)

  69. neight says:

    Being a gearhead, I used to check Jalopnik on a fairly regular basis and found the insipid hate baiting links to other Gawker Media sites an annoyance. Then they started letting the regular Gawker writers moonlight on car related topics.

    Let's just say that their expertise on federal sentencing looks fairly robust compared to their knowledge surrounding cars.

  70. Josh M. says:

    This…this is how I feel whenever anyone in journalism talks about the chemical industry, or industrial accidents, or ANYTHING like that. I've been in the chemical industry in various ways for almost 8 years, and this sort of sensationalism (Oh noez, teh eeevil chemical companies want to put a new incinerator down the road! Yes, they do, and it's going to burn so damn hot that the only thing it'll be spitting out is CO2 and water. Stop whining.) makes me rageface.

  71. Jeff says:

    @ Shawn Young

    I have no problem substituting my judgment for the AUSA. We do it all the time when we write about cases. The issue: how would your judgment differ? Basing our knowledge only off of the article, what's the neutral way you (since you're challenging this prosecution) distinguish this theft from other thefts? The nature of the thing stolen? The characteristics of the defendant? The monetary amount? The wealth of the victim?

    All these distinctions have problems. We can't have a rule that say you get a pass on frozen meatballs. Or if you're a middle-aged woman. Or if the thing you stole wasn't worth much. Of if you stole it from someone really rich (as the federal government is).

    You can substitute your judgment for the AUSA, but I'm not sure what you're going to replace it with that reaches a different result in a principled manner.

    **

    To an entirely different issue:

    Although the journalism is clearly sensationalist, I will say this: merely as an ethical matter, from the prosecutor's perspective, you can never say, "Hey, the statutory max is X, but you'll get X-Y." Because that's just not how (federal) sentencing works. The prosecutor has to be upfront about the possibility of a maximum sentence, because the Judge controls the sentence. If the defendant enters into a plea deal, or does some sort of action on the premise that the prosecutor made representations to them that they could never get the statutory max, and then lo and behold they do, the prosecutor has a problem.

    Defendants get upset when they get sentenced higher, and this happens more often than you think. Say a witness pleaded guilty to a crime with a max of 10 years. Many defendants might think, "Oh, the judge is going to sentence me below the max, because I pleaded guilty, and the US Sentencing Guidelines give me a reduction for doing so." But the Judge ain't having none of it and sentences the guy to the max. Can the Defendant unwind his plea? Generally, no. But if the Prosecutor had said, "There's no way you're getting the max if you take this deal," … well the issue becomes dicier. This happens all the time in immigration contexts, where an AUSA (or more often a defense attorneys) misinforms a defendant about the immigration consequences of a plea deal; they plea; they get removed from the U.S. They then try to unwind their plea on the basis that they didn't understand they'd get kicked out.

    Like I said, a separate issue from the journalism one, but something to keep in mind as we have this discussion. Yes, most defendants do not anywhere near the statutory max touted in press releases, but sometimes they do, and sometimes they do because they thought the max was not possible.

  72. Jeff says:

    And I can't edit this, when I forgot to close my italics html flag. C'est la vie.

  73. Ron says:

    The job of a journalist is to advance the objective of their employer. That objective is usually to make money by selling advertising space. Secondly, to control government and corporate policies to benefit themselves and/or friends.

    It is NOT their job to educate, enlighten, or bring justice to downtrodden.

    On rare occasions, they do the above, which is great. As they say "Even a broken clock is right twice a day". But anyone foolish enough to believe that corporate media is looking out for your best interest is the kind of fool they love selling their stories to.

  74. En Passant says:

    Ken wrote Mar 26, 2013 @3:38 pm:

    @Shawn:
    the government deserves all the crap it gets, full stop.

    I understand the argument. But I think that stupid criticisms crowd out, and reduce the credibility of, the good criticisms.

    I think this is an accurate and succinct description of an observable phenomenon.

    I propose to call this Ken's Law of Criticism, after Gresham's Law ("Bad money drives out good"), to which it bears resemblance.

    It may, like Gresham's Law, have a long and august history (Gresham's Law's first known statement was by Aristophanes in The Frogs). I do not know that history for Ken's Law, but greater minds here could likely find instances.

    But, unlike Gresham's Law (at least so far), the cognoscenti of arcane allusions could celebrate Ken's Law in song.

  75. En Passant says:

    Hmmpf! Link above didn't work. Operator error, as usual, so let's try that again:

    But, unlike Gresham's Law (at least so far), the cognoscenti of arcane allusions could celebrate Ken's Law in song.

  76. James Pollock says:

    "(Oh noez, teh eeevil chemical companies want to put a new incinerator down the road! Yes, they do, and it's going to burn so damn hot that the only thing it'll be spitting out is CO2 and water. Stop whining.)"

    At least, right up until the sleepy and/or distracted operator forgets to set the thing for "preheat" before they start injecting the nasty toxics. Admittedly, the incinerator in MY local news is the one they were using to dispose of the aging stockpiles of nerve gas… presumably the system with the tightest of safety procedures… which still had a couple of "oops"es.
    I agree with your broader point, though. News coverage of IT issues is often not even close, also (Although I'm going to say that the inaccuracy peaked during the heyday of software licensing compliance raids, because you got IT inaccuracy compounded with legal inaccuracy.)

  77. perlhaqr says:

    Shawn Young: Are you arguing that every incident of theft ought to be prosecuted in court?

    Yes. Even if the person you were asking won't argue that, I will.

    It may not need to be a full press federal court (though, due to jurisdictional issues, this one has to be) but certainly, short of some other objectively impartial process (i.e.: not extrajudicial punishment by the cops) every incident of discovered theft should result in some measure of punishment to the thief. Down any other path lies contempt for property rights and madness.

  78. YoloContendere says:

    @ perlhaqr

    "Shawn Young: Are you arguing that every incident of theft ought to be prosecuted in court?

    Yes. Even if the person you were asking won't argue that, I will."

    And you don't see how this position is obviously untenable?

  79. goober says:

    You know, it just occurred to me that by Tad's logic, Car and Driver should never, ever be allowed to post a review of any car ever again, because they haven't built a car themselves. Also, since I've never published a novel, I should really stop reviewing them on my blog. I mean, what right do I have?

  80. En Passant says:

    James Pollock wrote Mar 27, 2013 @9:38 am:

    I agree with your broader point, though. News coverage of IT issues is often not even close, also (Although I'm going to say that the inaccuracy peaked during the heyday of software licensing compliance raids, because you got IT inaccuracy compounded with legal inaccuracy.)

    Bizarrely inaccurate rapportage about anything remotely technical is common. My particular longstanding peeves, because they are nigh universal as well as technically bizarre, are reports of events involving electricity.

    For a recent example: "… More than 7,000 volts surged through his body, police said…"

    In a word, no.

    Voltage doesn't "surge through" anything. Current surges through things. Voltage is a measure of electrical potential difference in charge. Current is a measure of the transport of charge (measured in amperes, or coulombs per second).

    "A thousand volts surged through him" is logically equivalent to saying "He fell from a height of a thousand miles per hour".

  81. cynumber9 says:

    here's a link to a situation where initial reporting got a bunch of people freaked out because the maximum sentencing was reported as probable fact (a few nice people have adjusted their tweets since). it contains the actual plea agreement and guideline language. plaintiff went from "a year in jail and $100k fine" to a max 6 mo's probation.

    http://goo.gl/eGn6j

  82. Robert says:

    Perhaps some more "outrage" over Steubenville is warranted, but this outrage is misdirected.

    Why aren't people "outraged" that no adult was convicted with serving alcohol to a minor? That none of these minors who procured alcohol were charged with anything? That the person who took and posted the photos wasn't charged with anything? (Admittedly, he made a deal.)

    There were no clean hands in the Steubenville case, yet I'm amazed at all the anger directed on just two out of dozens of people who committed criminal acts that day.

  83. SIV says:

    Is this one of those 2lb bags of frozen meatballs or a 1/2 ton bag?
    Couldn't West Point just fire her in lieu of making a federal case out of it?

  84. bold guy says:

    Woman was sentence to 25 years to life for 146$ forgery. Spent 13 years in prison: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLezBWtuCBk

    Sometimes justice does not play out as people think it should.

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