Category Archives: Michael Devlin

Judge Says No to Devlin Pre-Trial Motions

The defense team for Michael Devlin were delivered a few strong blows in a hearing on pretrial motions held this morning in the Franklin County, Missouri Courthouse.  In this criminal case against Michael Devlin and concerning the abduction of Ben Ownby, several motions important to the defense received denials and one was passed by the court to be heard next week.

 

Associate Judge David Tobben of the 20th Judicial District Circuit Court made the following rulings in today’s hearing:

 

DENIED:         Motion requesting the issuance of a “gag order limited to statements” Susannah Cahalan obtained from Devlin during her two interviews of him in jail.

 

During a discussion of Cahalan’s “misrepresentation” of herself as a family friend to gain access to Devlin, it was noted that Cahalan did, indeed, identify herself as a NY Post reporter during the second interview.  Therefore, Devlin was clearly aware that she was a reporter.  Of course, he went ahead with the very first interview by Cahalan, even though he had never seen her before and knew she was not a “friend.”  Judge Tobben said that the gag order was unacceptable and would effectively prohibit all news organizations worldwide from publishing any stories that relied upon, in whole or in part, the Cahalan interviews with Devlin as published in the Post.

 

DENIED:         Motion to suppress any “published or unpublished” information gathered by Cahalan and the NY Post.

 

Attorneys for Cahalan and the Post informed the court that Cahalan had taken no written notes, nor made any recordings during either of her two interviews with Devlin.   In fact, it was stated that her story written and published in the Post was done entirely from her own memory of the interviews.  Devlin’s defense attorney Michael Kielty claimed during the hearing that some of the details in the Post story were incorrect, although he failed to produce examples of errors to the court.  The court did order Cahalan and the Post to preserve any notes written or recorded after her interview, in the event the court should need them later on.  Judge Tobben further stated his opinion that any suppression of information by Cahalan or the Post was in violation of the U.S. Constitution.


DENIED:         Defense Motion to allow Devlin to appear in court in “plain clothes and free of visible restraints” during future court proceedings.

 

Judge Tobben stated during the hearing that “we see guys in orange here every Thursday morning and I don’t think it creates any problems.”

 

DENIED:          Defense Motion to request a transcript of all grand jury testimony and proceedings and “all other testimonial proceedings.”.  Judge Tobben noted that the Grand Jury is convened by Circuit Judge Gael Wood and any motion to request a transcript must be filed with that court, as Tobben has not authority in that matter.

For sake of understanding, Grand Jury proceedings are not recorded, as a rule, and not even defense counsel are allowed to join their clients during testimony before it.   Grand Jury indictments also allow a case to skip preliminary hearings and go straight to trial.

 

The court also refused to hear the Defense Motion to transfer Devlin from the Franklin County jail to another detention facility in St. Louis County, or to another facility outside Franklin County, and revealed that Devlin’s defense team of Kielty and Ethan Corlija had apparently failed to submit an original of this document to prosecutors for their review prior to today’s hearing.  Judge Tobben ordered a new hearing on this motion be scheduled for February 15th to allow the attorneys time to comply with court rules.

 

 

Devlin Now Facing 74 Total Charges in Missouri

Yesterday, a total of 71 new criminal charges were filed against Michael J. Devlin, as well as a request to take these charges before a second Grand Jury.  Adding these to the existing charges Devlin faces in Franklin and Washington Counties, a combined total of 74 charges have been filed as of now.

 

Robert McCullouch, DA for St. Louis County (which is the county where Devlin resided and where both Ben Ownby and Shawn Hornbeck were discovered), announced yesterday that his office is filing 71 charges against Devlin for the alleged crimes committed at Devlin’s residence.  Specifically, these charges relate to Devlin’s forced captivity of both boys at his residence.

 

Under Missouri law, kidnapping can be committed by not only abducting a person from a place, but also by preventing a person from leaving a place.  And it is under this second definition that these new charges have been filed.

 

Of these 71 charges, one charge of Class A Child Kidnapping and 17 charges of Forcible Sodomy by use of forcible compulsion have been filed in relation to Ben Ownby.  Of those charges relating to the abduction in 2002 of Shawn Hornbeck and his nearly five years of captivity, Devlin will face one count of Class B Kidnapping and 52 additional counts of Forcible Sodomy by use of forcible compulsion.

 

In the Original Complaint by St. Louis County, all charges of Forcible Sodomy specify the use of forcible compulsion.  Forcible compulsion is defined under Section 566.060 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri as including “the use of a substance administered without a victim’s knowledge or consent which renders the victim physically or mentally impaired so as to be incapable of making an informed consent to sexual intercourse.”

 

Franklin County authorities were the first to file criminal charges against Devlin, where he appeared by remote video from jail to answer at his arraignment.  There, Devlin faces child kidnapping charges for the abduction of Ben Ownby.  Their prosecuting attorney immediately announced his intent to take the charges against Devlin before his county’s Grand Jury to convene this month.

 

In Washington County, Devlin waived his appearance at arraignment and entered a plea of not guilty last week for a charge of Kidnapping of Shawn Hornbeck, as well as a charge of Armed Criminal Action for using a handgun in committing Shawn’s abduction.

 

It is important to note that the Class A Child Kidnapping charge (child defined as under the age of 14 years) did not exist when Shawn Hornbeck was abducted, which is why the kidnapping charges differ between the cases surrounding Hornbeck and Ownby.  The Child Kidnapping charge carries with it much more severe penalties that its predecessor, as well.  The old law carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, while the new one  allows a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

 

The Forcible Sodomy law carries a sentence maximum of life imprisonment and minimum of five years.  And under this statute, McCullough charges Devlin with having kidnapped Hornbeck “without his consent for a substantial period, for the purpose of facilitating the commission of the felony of forcible sodomy.”

 

Authorities have already stated that Devlin has confessed to committing these crimes while incarcerated.

 

So, for those keeping score at home, Michael J. Devlin faces now a combined total of two counts of child kidnapping, two counts of kidnapping (under the old law), one count of Armed Criminal Action, and 69 charges of sodomy.

 

The actual breakdown is as follows:

 

Child Kidnapping, Class A Felony, 1 Count in Franklin County, Missouri

Kidnapping, Facilitating A Felony, Inflicting Injury, 1 Count in Washington County

Armed Criminal Action, 1 Count in Washington County

Child Kidnapping, Class A Felony, 1 Count in St. Louis County

Kidnapping, Class B Felony, 1 Count in St. Louis County

Forcible Sodomy of W.B.O., 17 Counts in St. Louis County

Forcible Sodomy of S.H., 52 Counts in St. Louis County

The Post-Dispatch article by Tim O’Neil and William C. Lhotka can be read in its entirety at http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/stlouiscitycounty/story/C65E3EF822E592CD8625727A0013AC11?OpenDocument

Court to Hear Motions Tuesday in Ownby Case

A hearing on various motions filed in what will be Michael Devlin’s first criminal trial will begin Tuesday, February 6.  Associate Judge Dave Tobben in Division VII of the 20th Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri will preside.

 

Please note that the case before the Franklin County courts relates strictly to child kidnapping charges filed against Devlin for the abduction of Ben Ownby.  Charges against Devlin surrounding Shawn Hornbeck’s abduction were filed in Washington County and will be tried in that jurisdiction, barring an unforeseen and highly remarkable change.  Since charges were filed first against Devlin by Franklin County, their D.A. Bob Parks will have first crack at trying Devlin for these crimes.

 

Defense motions from Devlin’s legal team were filed on January 22nd, following Devlin’s interview by Susannah Cahalan that was published in the NY Post the previous weekend.  I rambled ad nauseum about her under my post, “News” is not “Journalism.”

 

The motions that are expected to be heard include the following issues:

 

1.                  To transfer Devlin from the Franklin County jail to another detention facility in St. Louis County, or to another facility outside of, but in proximity to Franklin County.

 

2.                  Requesting the issuance of a “gag order limited to statements” Cahalan obtained from Devlin during her two interviews of him in jail, as well as a motion to compel production of her notes.

 

3.                  To suppress any “published or unpublished” information gathered by Cahalan and the NY Post.

 

4.                  For the “enforcement of Franklin County jail visitation policy” and requesting that no more than six people already identified by defense council on a “Visitation List” be given visitation rights, other than legal counsel.

 

5.                  To allow Devlin to appear in court in “plain clothes and free of visible restraints” during future court proceedings. 

 

6.                  To preserve “all physical, electronic, verbal and written evidence” that has been collected by the state regarding the case.

 

7.                  To request a transcript of all grand jury testimony and proceedings and “all other testimonial proceedings.”.  (As you may recall, Franklin County D.A. Bob Parks stated his intent following Devlin’s arraignment to take the matter before their grand jury, which will convene later this month.)

 

8.                  The defense counsel will also argue for a change of venue for the trial and must present evidence or “show cause” that residents in the county will be unable to render a fair, impartial verdict.

 

Finally, just last Monday, January 30th, counsel for the NY Post filed a motion to allow Slade R. Metcalf of Hogan and Hartson L.L.P. in New York City to represent the paper before the Missouri court.  They have also filed a Motion to Intervene and argue against the gag order requested against Cahalan, as well as the motion to compel production of her notes.

 

Tuesday’s hearing will begin a 9:00 a.m., unless postponed, and will be held at the Franklin County Courthouse in Union, Missouri.

 

 

New Leak Reported in the Michael Devlin Case


Missouri’s Franklin County District Attorney Robert Parks is likely in a very foul mood this morning.  I know I would be.  And I would be holding a “Come to Jesus” Meeting of gargantuan proportions with my staff right about now…

 

It appears that someone on his staff, or perhaps a member of the investigative task force (less likely), or maybe yet someone from the defense side, met yesterday with a writer for the Associate Press and anonymously leaked out a few unsubstantiated details for our media to gobble up today.  I say “unsubstantiated” because you never know if Mr. Anonymous is leaking real information, or adding a little conjecture because of personal bias.  So this leak, as with the likely few more to come, will wait for the light of court testimony to be determined as actual fact.

 

Nevertheless, what we are reading this morning is not surprising to me.

 

A week or so ago, if you will recall, we read another such leak where Shawn Hornbeck was apparently with Michael Devlin on the day Ben Ownby was abducted, and further reportedly helped to nab Ownby by forcing him into the floorboard of the truck as Devlin fled away.

 

Today we read potential details about the days between Ownby’s abduction and the recovery of Ownby and Hornbeck by authorities.

 

According to the AP, their source close to the investigation has reported the following information that I have tried to separate into the eight points below:

 

1.  On January 11th, the day local police spotted the white truck in the apartment complex and traced its ownership to Michael Devlin, the policemen went to Devlin’s apartment that evening to speak with him.  (We knew this already, as well as the two officers’ notation of Devlin “doing a 180” during their conversation.)  What is new is that Shawn was reportedly standing at the door with Devlin as police were speaking to him.   Devlin refused to let investigators inside the apartment and, since they had no search order or probable cause, police left, keeping the apartment and Devlin’s truck under close surveillance.

 

2.  During this same doorway conversation, Shawn supposedly identified himself to police as “Shawn Wilcox” and Devlin’s godson.  He supposedly further related that he was staying with Devlin because his mother was deceased and his father was in New York on business.

 

3.  Since their investigation was focused upon finding Ownby, Shawn’s story at the door may or may not have concerned police, who at the time had no idea of Shawn’s true identity.  Nevertheless, and I repeat here, the apartment was placed under close surveillance that night.

 

4.  While Devlin was being interrogated by the FBI the next morning (Friday, January 12th) at Imo’s Pizza where Devlin was the Day Manager, Shawn Hornbeck reportedly called the pizza place and spoke with owner Mike Prosperi (who reported this piece of info apparently).  Per Prosperi, he recognized Devlin’s name and number on Caller ID and asked who was calling, to which Shawn apparently again identified himself as Shawn Wilcox and went on to say his father was Devlin’s friend.

 

5.  Following Devlin’s arrest by the FBI and subsequent search of the crime scene that was his apartment, three guns (no description offered) were confiscated by investigators.

 

6.  During the time between Ownby’s capture and both boys’ recovery and Devlin’s arrest, Shawn Hornbeck was made responsible for preventing Ownby’s escape, while Devlin was at work or away from the apartment.

 

7.  During part of Ownby’s captivity, he was reportedly restrained with duct tape.

 

8.  This source or another has further reported to the AP that Devlin threatened to kill Shawn and his family repeatedly, but thankfully stopped short of going into further detail as to what Shawn’s beginning days and weeks and months of captivity were like.

 

Worry not that young Shawn Hornbeck will be deemed, in any way, complicitous by the courts in this matter.  Far from an accomplice, this screams in volumes the level of abuse and terror inflicted upon Shawn by Devlin’s hands, the level of which none of us can comprehend.  And I don’t care what is leaked in the future, however bleak a story it may try to paint of young Shawn, I am only more and more in admiration of Shawn for finding a way to survive more than a third of his very young lifetime spent in absolute Hell.

 

What it does mean is that this leak and the others to come erode the defense team’s ability to find an impartial jury.  It further can be added to the list of points from which they will file appeals following the initial trial, or to perhaps suppress evidence along the way.   What is also means is that the defense team finally has a justifiable reason to seek the court’s protection through a gag order, which I hope they or the District Attorney pursue.  Leaks like these only serve to the detriment of the prosecution and I don’t want anything to get in their way.

 

By my best guess, we will not see this going to trial before a year to year-and-a-half from now.  And that could be extended if additional victims are linked to Devlin.  In the interim, expect a lot of criticism of Shawn that will serve only to try and discredit him as the primary witness that he is.  Believe me, the court will not believe Shawn is discredited now or at any point in the future.  Only our wonderful media pals and folks like the infamous Mr. O’Reilly will use this as additional fodder to profit upon.

 

 

UPDATE at 5:15 p.m. CST:

 

More information is available on the AP-released leak regarding the Michael Devlin case.

 

The AP writer who broke this story was, as I suspected by virtue of the number of bylines, Christopher Leonard.  In an interview with Fox New’s John Gibson via phone last night (a partial transcript is available on the site), he made several statements I feel are important to my own accuracy.

 

Regarding the “authenticity” of his anonymous source for his story, Leonard stated that he has been working on this story for weeks.  “The information would not be out there today unless we were completely assured it was based on the absolute most reliable sources who have access to this information.  It’s been vetted, and we put it out today.”

 

Regarding Shawn’s presence at the door during the Thursday night discussion between Devlin and police, Leonard’s call offered some additional information.  Leonard said his source related that both Shawn and Devlin told Ownby to hide in a bedroom behind a door.  He said that Shawn actually answered the door and spoke first with authorities [giving his name as Shawn Wilcox, etc.], then Devlin came to the door and spoke further with authorities and refused to let them enter the apartment.

 

Finally, Gibson asked Leonard for more details of the first 30 days of Shawn’s captivity by Devlin.  Leonard stated that his source revealed that following Shawn’s kidnapping as an 11-year-old, he was put “into intense isolation and underwent intense abuse for 30 days.”  He added his source further reported that this period of time in Shawn’s captivity and what the child underwent “essentially broke the child’s mind.  You know, kind of stripped him of his identity as happens in abuse cases like this.”

 

Leonard added that Shawn’s identity was then slowly rebuilt over the years by Devlin, who would give him increasing freedoms and “treats.”     Leonard also stated that his source refused to elaborate any further on details regarding the beginning of  Shawn’s captivity, but that these details would emerge when presented as evidence against Devlin at trial.

Has Another Advertiser Vacated O’Reilly’s Factor?

The News Hounds website is an anti-Fox News as anyone could possibly be.  And they clearly state their parentage from MoveOn.Org.  So I give all of their reports, simply because of their stated bias, a big grain of salt.  Nevertheless, today I found something of interest that bears some scrutiny and further investigation.  News Hounds writes today that another advertiser on Bill O’Reilly’s The Factor has responded to one of their readers, who wrote to complain about O’Reilly’s comments now infamous regarding Shawn Hornbeck.  Unconfirmed (by me) as of yet, and I wish we had more info as to who “CW” is, but…

Says News Hounds: 

“For those who scoff at such actions [writing advertisers to complain], or merely wonder if they do any good, here is a reply received by our reader and contact compiler CW.”

They quote the email response as follows: 

“Thanks for bringing this to our attention. We will certainly address this with Fox and restrict further advertising from The O’Reilly Factor.

Dick Wechsler
President, CEO
MPG Direct”

Hmmmm…  Something about this response just doesn’t ring home for me.  I just can’t rationalize a CEO making the statement, “We will certainly address this with Fox and restrict further advertising from The O’Reilly Factor.”  I may be wrong, but it seems a little too…well…un-CEO-like.  Any attorney, however inept, would never write such a thing, and any CEO with sense (and this fellow certainly has tons of business sense!), would never release a statement without his counsel’s stamp of approval.  My radar is high on this report and I hope to confirm it’s truth or falsehood soon.

MPG Direct is a major direct marketing company from New York and is the suggested representative by reference above of Vonage.

Should anyone out there find a Snope report or any evidence suggesting that this is invalid, I would sincerely appreciate the notice.

Lowe’s Pulls Advertising from O’Reilly’s Factor on Fox

UPDATE:  Monday, July 30, 2007:  After returning home from vacation, I have discovered this article cited by Daily KOS as supporting information for their own boycot of Bill O’Reilly’s programming and of Fox News in general.  Let it be widely and clearly known that I do NOT condone anything those idiot wackos at KOS would ever organize or support.  While I generally agree that Fox is not totally “fair and unbalanced” as they claim, I DO believe deeply that Fox does a MUCH, MUCH better job at fairness than any other network in presenting factual information and offering contrasting opinions.  Yep, Fox is conservative and so am I.  To me, Fox is a small island of conservativeness in a sea of insane profit-by-conflict-driven drive-by media.  And once Fox & Friends has ended (that program has become so silly, insipid and tedious to me), Fox News is where I turn for information throughout the day. 

My purpose in reporting herein the pull-out of advertising by Lowe’s was strictly related to the backlash against O’Reilly in JANUARY for his stupid conjecture — without personal knowledge or information — that Shawn Hornbeck found some enjoyment in his captivity by Michael Devlin and hence his “willingness” to remain captive for four years.  That lunatic rant by O’Reilly incensed me and still does.  Bill O’Reilly is a man whom I disagree with often, but I still and always shall continue to watch his program and find his topics informative and agreeable.

I find it almost humorous that KOS would refer to a near six-month old story about Lowe’s pulling their advertising from O’Reilly to exascerbate their own movement promoted by MoveOn dot org. 

——————Here is the original entry, which I refuse to remove despite these morons who would try to use it for their own gain.  There were so many much better done articles (including another of my own), yet KOS cites this blurb?  Geez.

Following Bill O’Reilly’s remarks on Jan. 15th that Shawn Hornbeck was “enjoying” his captivity by Michael Devlin (else, Hornbeck would have tried to escape when he had the opportunities), folks across this land hit O’Reilly with the wrath where it really hurt:  advertising sponsors of The Factor.

Beginning in the last week, Lowe’s reportedly began sending the following email to the many people who emailed them and protested their advertising on O’Reilly’s show, as well as O’Reilly’s comments.

The result?  Lowe’s has pulled its advertising.

The email reads as follows:

“Thank you for taking the time to share with us your concerns regarding our recent advertising on the FOX network. We appreciate your feedback and want you to know that we take your comments quite seriously.

Effective January 25, we have pulled Lowe’s advertising from the O’Reilly Factor program.

Please accept this letter as a sincere apology from Lowe’s and reassurance of Lowe’s commitment to you, our valued customer. If Lowe’s can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to write or call us. We encourage you to continue to share your comments and feedback, whenever you think it would be appropriate.”

 Hmmmm…..

“News” is not “Journalism”…or Why I Miss Walter Cronkite

What do Dan Rather, Bob Greene, Jayson Blair, CNN, FOX, CBS, NY Times, LA Times, Boston Globe, Houston Chronicle, et al, ad nauseum, share in common? Each and all have been cited for one or more documented acts of deception. Most were deliberate, some were not. All have shared a common disregard that personal integrity is the absolute, essential, indispensable foundation of a journalist’s and his publisher’s credibility.

The media is revealing its dirty underwear lately. And it’s been wearing the same set for years and years…even my beloved conservative Fox News Network and its unsurprising sibling of Mother News Corporation. The only anchors I fully trust on Fox these days are Brit Hume and Neil Cavuto. But don’t presume my diatribe to come is a blast of Fox News Network. Oh, no. Fox is in very good company down below.

I interrupt my verbose rant to offer an important clarification:

“News” is not “Journalism.”

“News” is mere information, any of a billion random events that have occurred.  

“Journalism” is the writing of news through research and verification of the facts surrounding this information and the direct presentation of these facts with as little personal analysis or interpretation as a writer can provide. At least, the code of ethics of professional journalism teaches and reveres that doctrine. To the profession of Journalism, providing fact-based information for individuals to form their own opinions upon is of preeminent importance in a free society, a cornerstone of democracy. But to the business of news, getting the coup interview by any means necessary translates into big bucks every time.

Today’s press is all about the money.

The lengths to which individuals and institutions will go to grab that attention-getting, profiteering byline is sickening. And We The People bloody-well enable them to do whatever they want, with near impunity. News and its facts and sources no longer need to be verified before publishing. The worst apparent punishment for those who are caught short-cutting, cheating and downright lying is early retirement (ala Dan Rather and the Killian documents), being fired or reassigned (scores of references), providing and burying a legally crafted retraction that states anything but mea culpa (Boston Globe, May 13, 2004), or merely having the slight quietly pulled from view (Houston Chronicle, Nov. 2002).

Ironically, the Ombudsman program begun by the NY Times in July 2003 to counter its hemorrhagic loss of credibility after Jayson Blair got caught repeatedly fabricating story details and quoting witnesses he never interviewed in nearly every story he ever wrote is perhaps nearing its end. Four years later, in May 2007, the Times will either replace its first-ever Ombudsman (a public editor to bolster accuracy in reporting and mitigate complaints and errors), or kill the program entirely.

News of child terrorist Michael Devlin’s two-session interview over the weekend by Susannah Cahalan, a contributing writer to the NY Post and apparent freelancer, has achieved some notice by the public, after she apparently gained access to Devlin by claiming to be a family “friend” and specifically not identifying herself as a reporter to jail authorities. The only real outcry came from Devlin’s defense team, who certainly don’t want him talking to anyone and would certainly be motivated in diluting any of Devlin’s statements as much as possible. They’ve already asked the court to relocate Devlin to another facility that can provide “better security” for their client, when security was not breached, but their client agreed to be interviewed by Cahalan on Friday and again on Saturday. 

Point 1:  The defense counsel can’t control their client. 

Point 2:  Since they can’t, expect them to ask the courts to do it for them (gag orders don’t work that way, folks). 

Point 3:  Expect to hear soon and frequently how the defense cannot achieve a fair jury.

Let me be clear: The jail is not at fault. Devlin CHOSE to speak with this woman. So, it seems to me the defense counsel can’t control their client. I can’t wait to see how this weekend event plays out.

Then again, the more notorious Devlin becomes to the masses and the greater the misinformation and useless information about this case is perceived as fact, the better their ultimate chances of a mistrial to come.

Cahalan’s misrepresentation is easily believable and considered completely unethical by the Society of Professional Journalists. She lied about her intentions, now very clearly seen in print of her interviews, to deliberately circumvent orders that would otherwise have prevented her requesting access to Devlin. Had she listed herself on the visitors log as a “writer,” or “reporter,” or “student,” or anything else other than “friend,” Devlin would never have had the chance to say “Sure. Meetcha at the thick glass.”

How said that her actions seem rather benign in contrast with the myriad of scandals involving writers and reporters and news organizations over the years. Wikipedia has a long list of them. Just search “journalism scandals” and see for yourself. Jayson Blair is a good one to start with. And Dan Rather’s history is a clear window into the beginnings of theatrics to gain ratings. Remember “Gunga-Dan”?

Hmmm. I wonder how much the NY Post paid Ms. Cahalan for this scoop…? Hopefully, it was substantial. To quote Journalist and media watchdog Jack Shafer, “Journalism ain’t perfect, but it loves to eat its sinners.”

Also coming over the weekend was an article about Shawn Hornbeck’s natural father being a convicted sex felon. This article published in the NY Post has been further reported by its sibling Fox News and specifically by Bill O’Reilly, Hannity & Colmes, and Greta Van Susteren as recently as last night. This one absolutely baffles me. Why is this story such hot “news” at all, if not for pure smut value? If Shawn’s birth father had been Idi Amin, it STILL would have no bearing whatsoever in the matter surrounding Hornbeck’s abduction, four-plus years of victimization and terror, or his miraculous recovery. So why is the story about his birth father such a hot story?

Two words: Yellow Journalism. It sells big time. Not a single news organization can be exempted from having practiced it, yet their greed in capitalizing pales in comparison with We The People’s greed for smut. Hence, its profitability.

“Yellow Journalism” is a phrase coined more than a century ago in response to two publishers (Pulitzer and Hearst) who were accused of sensationalizing the news published in each of their NYC newspapers merely to increase circulation. Fierce rivals for the newspaper readership in the city, both men were scorned for filling their papers with stories deliberately written in such a style as to deliberately incite fear and anger to drive more and more readers seeking information from these heretofore trusted sources in search of answers to their fears and angst.

Messrs. Pulitzer and Hearst were not as concerned with adhering to the dogmas and tenets of professional journalism as they were their respective pockets. Profiteering worked well in the late 1800s and absolutely thrives today.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation – among the largest media conglomerates worldwide today and proud owner of FOX, the NY Post, DIRECTV, and a host of papers and TV networks on nearly every continent – boasts a revenue jump of 45% between the Q1 stats of 2005 and 2006 (according to their own PR). This huge gain is the direct result of our world-wide need for more news “as it happens.”

In 2000, News Corp. posted revenues of $14 Billion. In 2003, the revenues had increased to $16 Billion. Their earnings statement of FY2006 showed an operating revenue of nearly $24 Billion. 2007 should be an even bigger windfall for them. But they’re not alone. Overall last year, according to Forbes, the four largest media outlets in the
US enjoyed a cumulative revenue of more than $120 Billion. Those four are Time-Warner, Disney, News Corp. and Comcast.

Hearing “news” immediately it is paramount to We The People. Knowing it is accurate….well, that’s not so important apparently. Blind trust of any media source? Not any more.

We The People constantly reinforce the fact that sensationalism sells. While we happily blog ourselves crazy in our outrage of continued maligning of already terrorized Shawn Hornbeck, especially in the posting of the story about his deceased birth father that has no relevance whatsoever to this case, the Post has more hits on its website on Sunday and Monday than ever before. Even Greta Van Susteren pipes in a Post reporter last night to speak about their “uncovering” the father’s background and offers a new carrot that more news is developing…they’re just not ready to publish yet.

Armchair America is like a moth drawn to a flame in its rampant, purulent, festering, voyeuristic need to see the dark side, the smut, the base need to pat ourselves on our backs because we’re so much better than the poor souls on the “news.” We’d never do that. That’s such an outrage. Thank Heaven, that could never happen to me or us.

The real outrage should be directed inward. We The People are quite accustomed to having issues tried in the media, and the Devlin case is not showing all of its cards. We can’t understand how a child can be hidden for four and a half years without someone discovering him. We can’t rationalize why the child didn’t try and escape, when he apparently hand ample opportunities toward the end, at least, of his captivity. And how indignantly surprised we are to learn the child actually had a date! But we demand to know. And bless his heart – Devlin is still afraid to tell his parents what he has done! 

Thank you, Missouri police and prosecutors and FBI investigators for doing your jobs here and keeping your mouths shut! We The People don’t need to know! And the sanctity of the Devlin’s future criminal trial must be protected judiciously to send this monster to his appropriate end. But wait a minute! We WANT to know more, everything! Every sordid detail! And We want to know right now! Give us the juice and if you screw up along the way in breaking the news before anyone else, we’ll be sure to hunt for that retraction or correction buried in papers and damned near impossible to find online.

Indeed, our outrage should look inward. What does all of this say about us? Has our sense of propriety finally died a victim of the Jerry Springer Syndrome?

We flock in unprecedented droves to watch a Sunday evening television show that is all about adultery, murder, lying, manipulation, fraud…all those things we occasionally find reprehensible, yet always entertaining in society today. Admittedly, while I haven’t watched Desperate Housewives in over a year, I found the few episodes I watched to be quite funny and downright captivating. What will those depraved, corrupt, immoral characters do next? And is the show’s wild popularity a statement as to our acceptance of the existence of these characteristics in the Real World?

The View’s market share and ratings soared off the charts recently as more and more folks tuned in to see if Rosie was going to disparage Trump again, or report of his disparaging remarks toward her. Why was any of this crap “news-worthy”? God knows, it made headlines in every paper and on every network. Repeatedly. To this day, any inflammatory comments O’Donnell makes (most recently about Paula Abdul’s believed drinking problem) hits national news bulletins. Are we really this bored and have nothing better to do than hang onto this as “news”? Are we really so gullible as to not see who is profiting from this?

And during the last week, more folks than ever have tuned in to Bill O’Reilly’s nightly program to watch and hear any further outrageous comments he might make regarding young Shawn Hornbeck. It was already the most-watched cable news program, and we’ve done nothing but reinforce its ranking. I wish I had penned the quip, “You can take the boy out of Inside Edition, but you can’t take Inside Edition out of the boy.” At least O’Reilly is being true to form…or actually to his proven formula of shock-success.

The days of Walter Cronkite, once long hailed as the most trusted man in America, are long gone. I wonder what his opinion is of today’s media? Modern technology has paved the way for an explosion of areas beyond CBS where our news can be obtained, and large metro papers are in serious decline in readership that now gathers its information online. Our faster-paced society demands faster information, and America has complained for years now their belief in the decline of media accuracy against the rabid expansion in grab-the-bucks-and-run-the-story-now news.

Journalists who have long and arrogantly scoffed at any diminishing of their importance are now facing up to the nearing extinction of their once carefully protected doctrines of truth, accuracy, and unbiased style. Speed at any cost, cross-marketing of sister outlets and cable news celebrity fan shops have become the norm.

So the sensationalism will continue.

When you get right down to it, sans the emotion, running a story about Shawn Hornbeck’s father being a sex offender and, through the story, implying therefore an inescapable irony in the life of this terrorized child, is no different in premise than the Boston Globe publishing a fake and extremely graphic picture on its May 12, 2004 front page accusing US soldiers of raping Iraqi women, that very same image taken from a porn website “Sex in War” and even debunked as a fake by other news media during the entire week prior to the Globe’s publishing of same. The very same thing could be said of Ann Coulter’s infamous shocking style of hate-speak. Let us not forget how Geraldo Rivera received his commemorative boxing gloves of profitability. And Cirrus has shared an unprecedented landslide of revenues recently with the most infamous Shock Jock of all, Howard Stern.

The common denominator in all of this is that shock sells. Big.

With apologies to Tim McGraw for clipping part of his mega-hit song, I find the lyrics offer a perfect explanation as to why the media gets away with sensationalism, moreover plagiarism and downright fabrication:

“We like it. We love it. We want some more of it.  We try so hard, but can’t rise above it.”

For anyone hoping to persuade FOX or The Post (now ranked in the top five papers and ahead of the NY Daily News in circulation) or any other media outlet to reacquaint themselves with and adhere to responsible journalism practices, you’ve lost your mind. There are only two reasons our modern media will even deign to consider policing policies of truth in reporting, verification of facts and sources, proper attributions, et al: 1.If there is any huge monetary reward in doing so; and/or 2. If there is a huge monetary punishment for not doing so.

Our media terrorism victim du Jour is young Shawn Hornbeck. This full-fledged media frenzy cannot possibly be escapable. One day, if not already, he is going to read about all of this insanity, perhaps on his page in Wikipedia, in innumerable blogs just like mine, and on countless video clips on YouTube to be carefully archived in perpetuity. And he didn’t do one damned thing to deserve any of this.

We The People can’t rationalize how he chose not to try and escape. I can, and I don’t need the media to provide me with lurid substantiations. What I can’t put aside, though, is my wonder and worry as to how young Shawn feels about Fate trading him from one nightmare into yet another against which his greatest defenses are futile?

Hang on, kid. Fairly soon, you’ll be old news. Paris Hilton just traded a nolo contendre plea for a reduced DUI charge.