One shouldn’t confuse the exception for the rule.
After all, despite the fact that Usain Bolt can run 100 meters in 9.58 seconds, we don’t really believe that all Jamaicans are quick as a blink. At just 5’7″, Spud Webb is about as representative of NBA players as I am representative of sports journalists.
To use a non-sports example: What if we measured the Baldwin family’s success by brother Daniel’s accomplishments?
About the only people who don’t seem to understand this logic are sports columnists. How else do you explain their description of an accused murderer as the “poster boy” of Florida football under former coach Urban Meyer?
If the accusations against him are true, then Aaron Hernandez is the typical troubled athlete in the same way that Stalin is your average corrupt politician.
Now let me clear: I am not saying that discussion of Meyer’s disciplinary policies when he was with the Gators is out of bounds. I’m not saying you have to believe Meyer’s tenure in the sunshine state was without flaw. I’m not saying you can’t ask questions. There are certainly some legitimate ones.
What I am saying is none of this discussion belongs anywhere near the mention of the murder allegations against Hernandez or the death of Odin Lloyd.
It doesn’t belong in the same conversation for the same reason that no retelling of 9/11 includes a synopsis of President George W. Bush’s Middle East policy, or–to be bipartisan–no article on an increase in the usage of food stamps mentions President Barack Obama’s race.
Smart writers know that on emotionally charged topics like this, critics willing to ignore the facts and audience members ignorant of the facts will simply make a connection the writer didn’t intend.
Even an explicit disclaimer in paragraph two is not going to change that.
Don’t believe that people connect two ideas just because they can be found so close to one another? Then check out this photo from a Barnes and Noble shared by my friend, Jed DeMuesy:
But maybe you succeeded in writing a brilliant piece that elevates the audience by “only” arguing that the way Meyer handled discipline at Florida may have helped contribute to the tragedy, but wasn’t directly responsible for it?
These are not the kind of pieces that are typically written in the immediate aftermath of a crime, for the very good reason that they tend to take the criminal off the hot seat and put the spotlight where it doesn’t belong.
For instance, you wouldn’t see an article recommending women not accept drinks from strangers days after a high-profile assault.
An analysis on how brunettes with German surnames are more prone to criminal activity would never appear on the same newspaper page as an article which described how Lori Schmidt had been accused of some sort of nefarious activity.
Don’t believe we’ve taken our eye off the ball in this particular instance? Do a Google search for “Urban Meyer murder.” It’ll return about 360,000 results. A search for the man prosecutors are actually going to charge because they believe he’s Hernandez’s co-conspirator? “Ernest Wallace murder” gets you 192,000 results.