Relatively uninhibited philosophizings on self and kosmos whenever the mood strikes...
Monday, December 31, 2007
The Trial of Bernie Ward
Bernie Ward grew up in San Francisco, was a Catholic priest for two years before leaving the priesthood to marry and start a family, taught theology in Bay Area high schools and in a private school in Washington DC, worked as chief legislative assistant for U.S. Representative Barbara Boxer, became an award-winning reporter and fill-in talk show host for Bay Area newstalk radio giant KGO Radio, and then became a popular full-time KGO host of two programs, the Bernie Ward program on weeknights and God Talk on Sunday mornings. For a time, he billed himself as "the lion of the left" and always championed a politically and religiously liberal perspective both on his radio programs and in his spirited appearances on national television programs. He also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars via his Thanksgiving charities fund drives every year that he was host of God Talk. He was one of my favorite talk show hosts, and I've listened to him regularly on KGO since the mid-to-late 1980's.
However, he was recently placed on paid leave from the station pending resolution of federal charges brought against him for owning and distributing child pornography. Ward admits that he did download several images of child pornography but says that he did it as part of his research for a book he was planning to write on "hypocrisy in America."He contends that when federal officials seized his computer in early 2005, they found no child pornography on it, and I'm not aware of any allegations ever being made against him of being involved in any kind of child sexual abuse. Apparently the federal government offered him a plea deal sometime back that would have meant his spending several years in prison, and he rejected it. Now he's been indicted and could conceivably serve decades in prison if he's convicted.
Everything I've read and heard about Bernie Ward tells me that he's been a wonderful husband to his pediatrician wife, father to his four children, and supporter of the community, especially in his fund raising for agencies serving the destitute. I have seen no indication whatsoever that he had any sexual interest in children or that he would deliberately do anything to harm children in any way. In fact, everything I know about Bernie Ward tells me quite the opposite. Unfortunately, federal law is very clear that if one receives or distributes through any means any child pornography, it doesn't matter why one does it. All that matters is that one has done it, and the penalties for it are incredibly severe.
Although I believe that child pornography is bad and should be illegal, I also believe that the penalties for simple possession of it are unreasonably draconian and that the apparent motives of the accused should be taken into account in deciding whether or not to bring charges. In Bernie's case, based on what I know, the spirit of the law aimed at rightfully protecting children from sexual exploitation seems to have been grossly perverted by slavish and perhaps malicious adherence to the letter of the law with what seems to me to be the likely result of ruining the life of a hard-working and talented man who has been a blessing to his community and family and of doing irreparable harm to his family and many friends. Yes, one could argue that if he's convicted and imprisoned, this will deter others from becoming involved in child pornography in any way, shape, or form. But even if this is true, and I wonder if it is, it seems that this good is vastly outweighed by the harm done in this particular instance.
I don't know that Bernie's longstanding, fierce opposition to conservative political leaders and especially to George Bush has played any role in the federal government's dogged pursuit of its case against him, but I do believe, based on what I've read and heard, that the federal government is morally, even if not legally, wrong to bring these charges against him, and I wish Bernie well in his defense against those charges. I would love to hear him back on KGO as soon as possible.
Bernie debating a conservative talk show host on MSNBC