Reading too much into a transcript

by andybechtel

A relative of mine likes to forward e-mails about politics and the media. Usually, the e-mail includes an allegation of bias.

The latest example involves the sentencing of Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber.” In January 2003, Reid was given life in prison for his attempt to blow up a plane with explosives that he had smuggled on board in his shoes.

The federal judge in the case, William Young, didn’t take well to Reid’s defiant attitude at the sentencing. He lectured Reid on issues of terrorism and patriotism.

“Richard Reid, see that flag?” Young concluded. “That is the flag of the United States of America, it will fly there long after this is over, and I am now sentencing you to life in prison.”

The e-mail includes Young’s full remarks and then asks: “So how much of this judge’s comments did we hear on our TV sets? We need more judges like Judge Young. Pass this around. Everyone should and needs to hear what this fine judge had to say.”

My first instinct when I receive this sort of e-mail is to check it out at Snopes. Sure enough, it’s there, and Snopes verifies that the e-mail fairly reports the judge’s statement.

But what about allegations of bias? Were the Reid verdict and judge’s comments ignored by the media?

The answer is no. CNN.com has a full transcript. The BBC story highlights a quote from the judge. The Wikipedia entries for Reid and Williams both quote his statement to Reid.

But what about broadcast media? Why didn’t viewers see and hear the judge’s statement for themselves?

Because the case was heard in federal court, cameras and recording devices were forbidden. So it would have been impossible for anyone who was not in court that day to see or hear the judge. We can only read about what he said in print and online, and see the artist rendering of what the proceedings looked like.

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