I recently posted an entry about local talk radio host Bernie Ward. I complained that the federal government appeared to be trying to railroad him into a lengthy prison term merely for downloading a few images of child pornography that weren't even on his computers when the authorities seized them. I said I was inclined to believe Bernie when he said that he was using the downloaded images for his research for a book about "hypocrisy in America." I believed him because I'd been listening to him for over 25 years on the radio, I liked him, and I had never heard even the faintest hint of a suggestion from or about him that he harbored any sexual interest in children. I admit that I had some dimly conscious doubts about his excuse, but I wanted so much to believe him that I was willing to overlook certain things in the news about his case that seemed suspicious.
Well, now that I've read more details about the case, I have to say that I now have an extremely difficult time buying Bernie's excuse. It definitely doesn't seem to fit the unpleasant facts that have come to light.
But while my opinion of the motives behind his acts has changed, I haven't changed my opinion that someone doesn't deserve to spend years if not decades in prison for merely possessing and distributing, for the briefest of time, a few images of child pornography that he didn't sell or buy or apparently play any role in creating. Yes, child pornography is a very bad thing, and those who make it or otherwise profit from it deserve to be treated severely. But what Bernie apparently did doesn't begin to rise to that level of egregiousness.
After recent revelations about his case, I can't see any way that he could ever return to talk radio. Not just KGO but also anywhere else. His reputation seems forever ruined. His media career seems forever ruined. And I can't imagine that his marriage and family life are ever going to be the same, and they may be ruined too. If the government wants to pile on with extended public service, probation, and, perhaps, even a heavy fine, well, I guess it has to do something because Bernie did break the law, as even he admits, and charges have already been brought. But a long (or even short) prison sentence and permanent status as a registered sex offender seems like an ostensive definition of "cruel and unusual punishment" not only of Bernie but also of his family.
And some of the hateful things I've heard people say about how Bernie deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison being raped, brutalized, and humiliated, or to at least have his life destroyed forever seem more disturbing to me than anything Bernie appears to have done.
I feel very sorry for Bernie Ward, for his family and friends, and for a community that has lost an intelligent, thought-provoking, and influential voice for the poor and middle class. What unfortunate pathology led such a smart and well-read man to bring such ruin to himself and such pain to his loved ones?
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