Letters for the week of September 10-16, 2003 

Who writes those headlines, and how did you manage to take a complimentary story and turn it into a perceived slam?

"The Molesters' Hero," Feature, 8/20

Your schizophrenia did Roberto Najera a disservice
I was perplexed by your schizophrenic article. Half of the article appeared to objectively describe the unlikely victory in the nation's highest court for one (charged but never tried) client of the Contra Costa County Office of Public Defender. The other half -- together with the menacingly cropped photos and sensationalized headline -- appeared to be typical victim-pandering vitriol, albeit about a serious social problem. Since the issues in the Stogner decision happen to arise in a context open to your "ripped from the headlines" exploitation of primal feelings about sex and revenge, the presentation was spun for readers uninterested in an article that would simply enlighten them about the important constitutional issues at stake.

At its inception, the article embarked upon a high-minded description of the twists and turns in an unusual legal victory for a criminal defendant in the traditionally conservative "Bush v. Gore" Court. The emotional content of a victory won by a cancer-surviving Hispanic Contra Costa County deputy public defender against insurmountable odds and the resources of the Ashcroft Justice Department and the State of California should have sufficed for human interest. But, alas, such educational and uplifting human stories don't sell newspapers or -- more accurately in the case of the Express -- cause readers to pick up advertising "shoppers."

Recognition of this last point helped clear up my initial confusion. I concluded that I should be no more perplexed about the packaging and some of the content of your article than I am by why Jerry Springer and Montel Williams have more viewers than the PBS Newshour. One would have thought that defense of constitutional values, like that undertaken by Mr. Najera -- as he was professionally obligated to do for his client -- would have received better treatment in the hands of "journalists" who frequently invoke the First Amendment when exercising rights that aren't popular with the public or the government. But such an assumption would be naive. As with Messrs. Springer and Williams, it's really about the number of eyeballs attracted by the sizzle and not about the substance. Isn't that right?
David Coleman, public defender, Contra Costa County

Roberto is a hero
The headline for your recent article was offensive, misleading, and far more hostile and biased than the article that you wrote. Roberto is a hero. Through tremendous personal sacrifice and extraordinary hard work, Roberto dedicated himself to overturning a law that was inconsistent with our Constitution.

In our system of criminal justice, we have decided that every person accused of a crime deserves a lawyer. What are you saying about our system if you say, yes, defendants are to get a lawyer but their lawyer should only do his best for criminal defendants who have committed crimes that we like?

Roberto is a hero because he did his best for his client. And in doing so, he brought out one of the best parts of our criminal justice system: that the law is supposed to be higher than the facts of any given case. Roberto is a hero of the law, not of molesters. He is my hero, and I am not a molester.
Andrea Jones-Hartsough, San Francisco

A constitutional hero
Journalism is a tough business. Having heard myself speak for 54-plus years, I can understand how you might have retrieved the quote you did from my interview with you. That it doesn't capture any of the nuance involved in my expectations regarding the decision is unimportant in the grand scheme. It's simply unfortunate that one's ideas can't be accurately relayed. I write not to express any serious displeasure at the content of your article; in fact, I thought you exposed Roberto's decency and depth and Boland's serious limitations admirably. Rather I write to ask what part you took in the headline. If your replying suggests that it was you who happened to see value in the phrase "Molesters' Hero," then it is you who might want to rethink the role that the awesome power of the press can play for good or ill.

There is a marvelous paradox that the article never fully grasped which we public defenders embrace joyously: that wonderful, truly wonderful, people like Roberto Najera can do a job required by the Constitution that can have such easily identified, devastating consequences. We are proud to be molesters' heroes, prouder still to be able to defeat unfounded accusations of molest, of which there are many. Given your article, some in the community apparently need to be reminded that others as well are beneficiaries of our work. That Ms. Boland, a state legislator, does not understand, or chooses not to acknowledge, the peculiar and beguiling paradoxes that flow from our forebearers' founding document, is a sad reflection of the enormous costs to conscience involved in a political life.
William Veale, chief assistant public defender, Orinda

"Gary for Governor," Feature, 8/6

If not Lisa Simpson, why not Bosco?
Concerning the governor's race: I think we should seriously look at Lisa Simpson. She is sincere, well-educated, and honest. She also was President of the United States in one episode set in the future. Therefore she has experience. Her brother Bart will provide many laughs, just as Presidents Carter and Clinton had their amusing brothers.

However, I think we should also look at Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although many people in the Bay Area do not like his politics, you must admit he has saved the world several times!!! In addition, Arnold comes from the future, so he knows what will happen! This is a real plus!

I'm disappointed that no one has mentioned Dennis Hopper. How about former President Reagan? I know Chris Thompson once mentioned Joe Millionaire. He'd be good.

I guess one downside to Lisa Simpson is that she's a cartoon character. I don't think that should really matter.

I remember that a dog was mayor of Niles. Does the California Constitution specifically state that the candidate must be a person? Some dogs are smarter and nicer than some people.
Richard List, Oakland

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