Sometimes, journalists should apologize.
Tony Holt of the Tampa Tribune is one.
Three days after John Kalisz went on a rampage, wounded two, and killed three, his sister, her friend, a young Police Captain — many more than five lives destroyed — Holt wrote an article highlighting Kalisz’s “better side”:
Sadness, guilt and disbelief have cost Melissa Williams a lot of tears during the past 72 hours.John Kalisz has been her friend for 14 years. He was the subject of a term paper she wrote while in college.
He helped pull her out of a dense fog following the collapse of her marriage, she said. . .
Judith Lavezzi is another long-time friend of Kalisz.
“He may have been a man of a blurry and difficult past, but the John that I knew, and knew pretty well by the way, is a man of compassion, strength and giving back,” she said.
And so on. Unforgivably, the article is titled “The Saint and the Sinner: Friends Recall Two Sides of Kalisz.” What does it mean to seek evidence of a man’s goodness in the week he has taken five innocent lives? It places the killer’s alleged positive qualities, and his acquaintances’ grandiose and self-serving emotions, on one side of a scale and the victims’ lives, and their families’ real losses, on the other side.
It is a degrading act of leveling.
Just because there are stunted people weeping for John Kalisz — and Kalisz is not even dead; he will recover — doesn’t mean they merit notice. Recently, I have been hearing from sex offenders and other offenders who feel enraged that society dares to judge them. I have been hearing from their supporters, who are dismayed that I do not look at these men and feel pure empathy for their plight. That anyone would dare to withhold consideration of their qualities, which seem to consist mainly of the fact that they are sex offenders and thus deserve pity, is viewed by these people as a crime far more unconscionable than the crimes they actually committed. And even mentioning their crimes is far beyond the pale.
Like the sex offenders demanding empathy from me, John Kalisz appears to have seen himself as a victim of “the state,” an entity simultaneously faceless, fascist, and composed of millions of repugnant small-minded people who refuse to proffer the generosity of spirit they see as their due. It is a strange thing to have people like this judge others as lacking compassion, when they have shown so much contempt towards the people they victimize, but the letters I’ve received are dripping with rage.
This rage is what John Kalisz acted upon when he told his friend he was going to kill a policeman, any policeman who came for him. How dare we stop people from sexually abusing their nieces, or terrorizing their relatives, or shooting four women?
How dare we judge?