By Dr. John M. Livingston | Medical Policy Adviser
Late last week, Idaho Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin posed with and then posted on Facebook pictures she had taken with two members of The Three Percenters. This group is described by Steve Taggart in his most recent Idaho Politics Weekly post as “wacky and extremist at best.” The two men met with McGeachin to support the legal fight of Todd C. Engle. Several years ago, Mr. Engle was involved in the Cliven Bundy family standoff with federal agents in Nevada. He did indeed brandish a firearm in front of federal agents and deserved to be convicted and sentenced for that crime—nobody is disputing that fact. His 14-year sentence is disproportionate to those handed to the Bundy family members, who were the primary defendants in this case and are already out of prison.
Betsy Russell, in her Eye on Boise Post for the Idaho Press, posted three articles in two days insinuating that our lieutenant governor is associating with a fringe group.
I responded on social media to those arguments and used the terms “calumny” and “detraction” in association with the term “fake news” to describe what I felt was unfair treatment of our lieutenant governor.
It is my position that the First Amendment right to a free press should also carry with it the responsibility and some form of accountability giving readers balanced examination. Reporting in the press does not afford the accused the ability to cross-examine an accuser. It doesn’t even give the accused any ability to test the facts or put them in context. Because of these two issues alone regarding reporting of the truth, the responsibility of the press for getting the story right is even greater.
Calumny is the perpetration of unknown truth. It is a form of gossip that the person reporting the truth absolves themselves of any responsibility for the veracity of the truth. For example, if someone were to say, “Did you hear that Mrs. McGeachin is a Three Percenter?” he or she is placing the responsibility for that truth on the third party that the speaker heard the information from. There’s no responsibility on the speaker’s part.
Detraction is an even more interesting form of false witness (fake news) because the reporter of the event needs to either believe that what is being related is true, but the context of the truth
A historical novel about this concept was written 20 years ago entitled, “The Court Martial of Daniel Boone.” During the Revolutionary War, Boone was accused of consorting with the Indians of the Ohio and Miami River valleys helping them procure firearms to fight white British Settlers. At his court-martial, it was revealed that in fact, Boone was fabricating the weapons’ triggering mechanisms in such a way that they could only be fired once. This gave the colonialists a huge tactical advantage. Context is important when the truth is at stake.
Russell, in my most humble opinion, and Taggart in my not so humble opinion, are very much approaching the limit of calumny and detraction.
Abigail Adams, during the presidential campaign between her husband, John, and Thomas Jefferson, was confronted with information about Jefferson’s affair with Sally Hemmings, Jefferson’s house slave. Adams worked actively to suppress that information even though it could have helped her husband win re-election if it had been made public. She said: “It had to be the right truth, about the right person, at the right place, at the right time, for the right reason.” Thomas Jefferson defeated her husband in that election and many believe it was because of the integrity and wisdom of Adams.
She was unwilling to participate in a calumny or detraction. Context is part of the truth.
John Adams, almost 30 years earlier, defended in court eight soldiers, one officer and four British subjects for murders that occurred during The Battle of Bunker Hill on March 5, 1770. All were acquitted except for two, who were found guilty on a lesser charge and were subject to a branding on their hands. Many patriots of the day, including Paul Revere and Samuel Adams—John’s cousin, accused Mr. Adams of being a traitor to the cause of liberty and for many years afterward John Adams feared for his own life.
But the issue of the facts of the case and the need to support a legal code were certainly severable. The murders occurred but everyone deserved a fair trial and fair representation.
Years later, this case has been memorialized and is used to show how in criminal cases it is not only the defendants that are on trial but the law itself, and that attorneys who represent both sides in a legal case need to respect the process, the law, and the truth.
So Taggart tries to use the old playground guilt-by-association tactic. By supporting Engles publically, is McGeachin saying she is a Three Percenter? Not hardly. Is McGeachin saying she is part of a militia group? No. She is offering support for an Idaho resident who she thinks got a raw deal? Absolutely. Is she taking a stand about right and wrong and about a process that she believes in, but that she thinks has been abused? Answer that question for yourself.
I think McGeachen stands in the same tradition and for the same values as Abigail and John Adams did more than 265 years ago. Good for her and it is too bad that more of our politicians and leaders don’t have her guts.
It is also a shame that people in the media have such little understanding for those standing on principle, but when the American Civil Liberties Union takes similar unpopular stances they are portrayed as heroes.
It is also my opinion that Russell and Taggart will continue placing their own political agendas in before telling the truth, the sanctity of the legal process, and First Amendment rights and responsibilities.
Fight on, McGeachin. You have big shoulders to stand on and you will prevail. Thank you for your courage.