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


Cousin Dupree said...

Creepy. A sick man with a secret life. No wonder he's so paranoid.

Nagarjuna said...

Yes, Dupree, one would have to be stark-raving paranoid not to utterly and completely trust everything the Bush administration says and does.

Kevin said...

Looks like you were wrong about that creep Ward. It takes a sick mind to write the things I read on the transcripts. It seems he did indeed have a sexual interest in childre, including his own.

In the end he certainly was researching a book on hypocrisy in America. What he didn't tell us was that it was also his autobiography

Nagarjuna said...

Kevin, interestingly enough, I had just finished reading those transcripts before I discovered your message, and, even before that, I'd learned new details about the case that had me planning to post a follow-up to my previous entry. I agree with you that Bernie's excuse for having and sending those pictures now seems to have lost any iota of credibility. But if Bernie is as "sick" as you say, should his sickness, which there's no evidence to indicate has ever gone beyond fantasy and the evidence we've read about recently, be punished with years if not decades in prison? And should a human being who is sick in this way, but who has also done many good things in his life, bear the brunt of our unbridled contempt, or does he deserve the compassion that any sick person does?

I plan to post my follow-up soon.

dgstock said...

Well, to parse that thought further, Mr. Ward has made a profession of heaping vitriol on figures involved in unwise and victimless indiscretions, a la Foley, Craig, Limbaugh, and yet would draw on our wellsprings of compassion to let pass his behavior wherein he "fantasizes" a mistress/slave relationship with a faceless I.P. address,to whom he relates truly alarming thoughts re: his children's sexual attributes. This will be hard to spin in his protestation that he was "researching" a book, never, as far as I know, having done any prior investigative publications. Legally, he broke the law, and has admitted this. Morally, his actions, as a talk show host for "God Talk" show sufficient ambivalence towards what he considers "moral" as should raise eyebrows with the KGO listenership and the Disney corporation. Practically, he may well have indulged in fantasies which you could argue are private communications and a victimless "crime". I think Mr. Ward forfeited the cover of privacy when he forwarded illegal material over the net. As for victimless, I would like to know his wife's and childrens' true feelings.

Having listened to KGO for years, I've found Mr. Ward to be a one-trick pony on the dreaded Bushitler regime, and dishonest and abusive as well. He has ranted on about hypocrisy in the current administration and can expect a plateful of what he has been serving

Nagarjuna said...

So, dgstock, Bernie should have the same "vitriol" heaped on him that you say he's heaped on others and should spend years if not decades in prison for his crimes? Or is the ruination of his career, his reputation, and, quite possibly, his marriage and family life enough karmic justice for one lifetime?

dgstock said...

Well, these are choices that BW made; let his actions be judged in the court of public opinion and the marketplace and by his family as to his future career and life course. The legal process will take its course, and I hope he receives an appropriate sentence proportionate to his "crime". The hypocrisy is what concerns me most. Yes, Bernie is "vitriolic" Do you think it is still Bush’s fault?

Nagarjuna said...

Do I think WHAT is Bush's fault? I don't recall ever saying that Bush should be blamed for Bernie's plight. However, I did question whether there might be some vindictiveness from some quarter of the government over Bernie's views in its decision to pursue this matter in the way that it has. I understand that others who have been found with far more child pornography than Bernie have not been prosecuted or have been prosecuted far less severely.

I also wonder why the government has waited over three years to pursue this case and why, until recently, it allowed him full computer access and didn't remove him or his children from the home if it believed that he posed a real danger to children or to the community at large.

I understand that you especially dislike his "hypocrisy." But, from a psychodynamic viewpoint, is it any wonder that someone might attack others for tendencies one can't accept in oneself, and to realize that most of us are guilty of some kind and degree of hypocrisy? I certainly don't think one's life should be destroyed by "the court of public opinion" over it.

I think we might all do well to show more compassion for each other's human weaknesses and mistakes and to stop being so quick to pounce on them with self-righteous indignation and glee.

dgstock said...

You were quick to mention the name of Bush in your first post on this issue, which is obviously unrelated to the actions of Bernie Ward and didn’t need to be brought up in any context. Unsurprisingly, this has been a theme coming from his supporters, including his agent: the government waited so long to file charges, Bernie Ward is an outspoken critic of the administration’ it’s an election year coming up. . . let’s silence the liberal left any way we can to get them off the air. Shades of Hilary’s “vast right wing conspiracy”. All smoke and mirrors to divert attention from the behavior. You’ll note I said his sentence should be proportionate to the extent of his crime, if convicted. I suspect there was significant behind the scenes negotiations re: his safety in the community.

Although BW definitely has his hypocritic streak, I’d reserve the larger amount of distaste for many of his supporters and the more rabid progressive wing of the Dems, etc., none of whom express any shred of understanding or compassion for anyone on the other side caught in dire straits. . . think Don Imus for getting sacked, among others. I’m in full agreement with your sentiments regarding understanding and compassion. I expect Al Sharpton to be one of the first to exhibit this new behavior/sarc.

Nagarjuna said...

I didn't say that Bush wanted Bernie prosecuted. He probably doesn't even know who Bernie is. Nor did I opine that Bernie's prosecution was a "right wing conspiracy" to silence his criticism of the Bush administration. But I wouldn't be surprised, nor should you be, if we were were to learn someday that vindictiveness in some part of the government did play a role in it. I can't help but wonder if Rush Limbaugh would meet with the same fate under similar circumstances.

Of course, none of this is relevant to the issue of what Bernie actually did. But it may have some relevance to our evaluation of the government's response to what he did.

As for strong liberals showing no compassion for Don Imus, I don't know how true that is. I'm pretty "liberal" by most measures, and I expressed considerable compassion for Imus in this blog and equally considerable distaste for and even condemnation of the way that situation was handled. On the other side of the aisle, I hope you're well aware of how gleefully many hardcore conservatives have responded to the story about Bernie. Do you see much conservative "understanding and compassion" for HIS plight?

In any event, I have more to say about this whole situation in my latest entry, posted today.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, it's time....let go, Bernie...let your family, friends and co-workers from the shame of an arduous, seedy trial and attendant publicity...the bridge is calling you, is whispering Jump Birnie...Jump...Do it it...

FJR3 said...

Pedophilia is a sickness that can never be cured. My wife is a PhD psychologist and she tells me based on years of experience that pedophiles have a 100% recidivism rate.

So let me ask you. Children who are abused by pedophiles suffer decades of anxiety and often physical as well as extreme emotional distress.

Should we ignore their suffering just because the person abusing them gives lots of money to charity? Should the mafia boss be allowed to go on killing just because he gives lots of money to his church or his local community?

You say Bernie merely looked at the material, he didn't produce it. While that may indeed be true, children had to be abused so that he could pleasure himself.

Pedophilia is not a victimless crime like drug abuse can be, or prostitution can be. Children are harmed, sometimes to the point where they commit suicide.

Should Bernie spend the rest of his life in prison?

ABSOLUTELY! He is a predator of children and should never be allowed to be in their presence...ever! The only way that can be accomplished is to banish them to prison. Forever.