Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cole Update: Revisiting a Rumor

(Edited 11/6/09)
When is a Rumor Much More than Just a Rumor?

4 quick answers (among several possibilities):

1) When its a Vicious Rumor that tends to blame a victim or victims, or

2) When it draws attention away from the primary relevant issue(s), or

3) When it can bias a community and contaminate a jury pool, or

4) When it is untrue.

I reported earlier on what I believed to be a false rumor that started going around shortly after the "cite and release" arrest of Brian Cole for furnishing alcohol to a minor. I have since learned that the rumor has seemingly been disseminated into most of the social nooks and crannies of our relatively small community, and that is really too bad. Even if the part of the rumor saying the victim was also one of Dean Barnes' victims is true, it is essentially irrelevant to the case, as explained below.

The version I first heard might fit in all four categories above, and goes like this:

"I heard the person Cole gave alcohol to was one of the girls who got Dean Barnes in trouble."

After having been prodded by a friend into deeper consideration of the effects of such a rumor, I decide to write this short column.

- The rumor is vicious because it blames the victim.

Juveniles don't get adults into trouble. Adults get themselves, and sometimes juveniles, into trouble. Even if the juvenile in the recent case was also involved in the Barnes case, (and I have to confess, despite my earlier claim, there is no way for me to know, even if I was given good reason to doubt it, but I have recently seen documents which indicate she was) any previous contact with Barnes would be irrelevant. The adult, Youth Pastor Barnes, was responsible for abusing two 16 year old juveniles, not the other way around, and that is why he was sentenced to 15 plus years (See: If the 17 year old in question, had in fact been abused by Barnes, that couldn't possibly be an excuse for a 47 year old sometime Sunday school teacher to give her alcohol and park with her in an out of the way place on a country road. The rumor is completely illogical in that it tries to justify further victimization of a juvenile once victimization had started. At best, it just points out the skewed mindset and archaic value system of some folks who might be taken in by it.

Blaming the victim though has long been a tried and true strategy for distorting the true power in relationships and has been a way to turn the truth about social realities on their head. One recent case that was brought to my attention was that of a 26 year old 6th grade teacher who had sex with one of her 12 year old students. The attorney for the teacher tried to suggest that it was the 12 year old's fault for being a "Latino machismo teenager." See:

- The rumor draws attention away from the main relevant issue or issues.

The issue isn't one of whether or not there is a troubled teenage temptress on the loose in Baker City, wreaking havoc upon those that some people like to think are law-abiding and decent adult males with strong spiritual values and moral character. The primary issues are whether a 47 year old civic and spiritual leader, and family man, broke the law by serving alcohol to a minor in a parked vehicle out at the Pocahontas Station, and whether or not other crimes related to the juvenile have been committed. That's it.

- Because it blames the victim and draws attention away from the main relevant issue or issues, the rumor can bias a community and contaminate a jury pool.

The Sixth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution says, among other things, that "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed." (emphasis added) So we have a constitutional guarantee to unbiased juries, to the degree that finding one is possible. An impartial jury implies that the jury is not only unbiased against the accused, but is also unbiased against an alleged victim of the accused as well. If the legal defense team, or members of the community that were associates of Mr. Cole's, were to spread a rumor blaming the victim and besmirching her character, it is possible that in a small community like Baker City and County, that it could bias many members of the community against the victim and in favor of Mr. Cole.

We know that a story, even a highly misleading and irrational one, which is told often enough, can become accepted as truth. We also know that people want to uphold their beliefs, especially about those they see as near-saints who are held to be beyond reproach. Many want to defend their beliefs so badly, no matter how erroneous, that they will enter into denial and rationalization, creating the most fantastic tales to do so. When these processes occur in a small town, with people repeating a vicious rumor over and over, an impartial jury may be difficult to find, because the potential jurors may have been contaminated with the incomplete, misleading, or irrelevant information contained in a rumor.

That is why this subtly, or not so subtly, vicious rumor, is so dangerous. Due to both this widespread rumor, and to Brian Cole's extensive contacts within our groups and institutions, if a trial is to occur, one wonders whether an impartial jury could be found in Baker County. In that event, perhaps there should be a change of venue.

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