To Catch a Predator is a famous show in which the main reporter, Chris Hansen, sets up cameras and lures child predators into situations in which they solicit a child and are then surprised with a camera in their face asking “WHY!?” It is a strange form of entertainment, but can be a legitimate way of shaming predators, in a way.
That isn’t exactly what I would like to address here, though. Recently, my high school, O’Dea High in Seattle, was implicated as being aware of having an alleged child molester as a principal for a brief period. The Seattle Times and other PNW media outlets ran with the story, condemning both the alleged perp and the school for knowing he was indeed an accused kiddie-toucher. Nothing has been proved in the civil suits pending (remember, of course, that the requisite proof in this type of case is analogous to a 51% chance of guilt), nor have anything but rumors been let out into the open. It is all the community at O’Dea can do but deny, deny, deny – and hope people believe them. The world has changed in the last 50 years, and it is very much a “shoot first, ask questions later” culture we live in, with tabloid print journalism flying of the shelves at mere suggestions of misbehavior of celebrities or creepers.
Now that media is so vast and far-reaching, it seems difficult to avoid, but this type of journalism completely undermines the innocent-until-proven-guilty system. A mere accusation of certain crimes can completely destroy a person’s reputation, for their entire life. One does not need to be put in prison to be completely blacklisted in their community. If a rumor got out that touching children suited your fancy, it would be very difficult to stop the gossip. You would probably be fired, the police may get involved, and unless you had strong ties, you would likely be abandoned by many friends and family. Gossip is a very dangerous thing – even where it is a mere extrapolation of the truth or based on a hint of untoward behavior. In the age of mass media and technology-aided memes, all that is needed to destroy someone’s world is a rumor. Reputations are fragile things…
Nothing more, other than that. I find it distasteful that public shaming is a component of many crimes (but I have never felt loyalty was the virtue many others believe it to be, in some ways). It will only get worse. As my grandpa used to say, “What you do in the dark, will be shown by the light.” But are shows confronting people about rumors and seeking to destroy reputations the moral step to take?