“Bring Who Did It To Justice” and Other News Words I Hate

Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, who, preliminary reports indicate, is not a member of the Tea Party, has been arrested in connection with the Times Square bombing.

Officials think that either Shahzad did the deed, or knows who did.

And this was a bombing: that the lethal contraption malfunctioned matters not a whit. Shahzad, or somebody probably known to him, attempted to terrorize, commit mayhem, and to kill. He accomplished the first two goals, but luckily not the third.

Before Shahzad was, Hollywood-style, ripped off a plane as he was making his escape; before, that is, the cops knew who to apprehend, officials were saying what Attorney General Eric Holder said: “[We] will not rest until we have brought everyone responsible to justice.”

Last Sunday, after rousing Janet Napolitano from her slumber, she was able to say that whoever did the deed would be “brought to justice.”

Even so lowly a personage as Danny Defenbaugh, ex-FBI and master of scientific criminal investigation, said “the chances he will be brought to justice are very good.”

This language is wrong. Shahzad, or whomever, should not be “brought to justice.” He should be brought to the end of a short rope with a swift jerk.

Unlike newspeople and politicians, I do not speak metaphorically. By any sensible morality, Shahzad’s—or whomever’s—life is forfeit.

Which is why I hate the vague phrase “brought to justice.” What exactly does that mean? Merely to be captured or apprehended? If so, wouldn’t it be easier to say, “Whoever did this will be captured”? Or even better, “We’ll find who did this.”

Or does “brought to justice” mean to locate the fiend and to, as quickly as possible, read the perpetrator his rights and to secure him a lawyer? There are precedents for this interpretation. Just think back to Christmas and the Fruit-of-the-Loom Bomber, that despicable botch of nature whose “rights” were considered more important than those of the citizens of Detroit.

“Brought to justice” is a marketing phrase, a set of words the utterer is hoping the hearer will supply the meaning to. When Holder says it, he is hoping those who are inclined to think as I do, that it means “found, made to reveal his secrets, tried, convicted, and then strung up.”

But Daily Kos readers are allowed to think that it means, “located, given his rights, counseled that his hatred of America is understandable, told that he should try and keep away from explosives in the future, and then freed.”

What actually happens to Shahzad, or whomever, will likely fall between these two scenarios, landing closer to Kos-land. In any case, reporters, when they can be made to cease rooting for an administration and do their jobs, should insist on learning what the speaker of “brought to justice” actually means by it.

Remember when Obamacare was foisted upon us? Before the final vote, polls indicated a fairly substantial majority of Americans were against the healthcare bill. This might have caused lesser administrations to quail and offer compromises. But President Obama and Speaker Pelosi ratcheted up the rhetoric and engaged in maneuvers designed to increase government control.

These actions, reporters everywhere said, were Mr Obama’s way of “doubling down” on his strategy. That unfortunate phrase spread like a virus and now appears everywhere.

Jeff Schweitzer, a biologist and former Clintonista, wrote on the Huffington Post that “Republicans are now doubling down [like] crazy” on their strategy of revealing flaws in the White House’s economic policy.

Randall Amster, who bills himself as a (I choke) “peace educator, author, and activist”, on the same website, wrote that our response to the Gulf Oil spill “requires a regular doubling-down” on oil use, in writing policy, or something (Amster is not a clear writer).

“Doubling-down” originally described a popular gambling strategy. In blackjack, doubling-down can sometimes increase the amount you win by a fraction. In reality, though, it is a way of forking over your money to a casino at a faster rate.

(Yes, dear reader, I know that you are the one exception who has found a method to beat the odds; and that, on the whole, you have won more than you lost. Of course you have.)

“Doubling-down” can function as a humorous metaphor for political navigations, a fresh substitute for the tired “all or nothing.” That it was picked up so quickly and used so often reveals plenty about the lemming-like nature of journalists.

When these creatures hear a catchy theme, they latch onto it, and use it mainly to show fellow journalists that they are hip to the latest slang. And it is our ears that must suffer their verbal assaults.

23 Comments

  1. Doubling-down is a strategy used only when the situation is most favorable to you e.g. the dealer’s up card is a 2 through 6 and your two cards total ten or less–keeping in mind of course that the house odds of blackjack are still against you.

    Why do journalists insist on using the expression in a context that suggests more risk is being assumed?

    Who will bring these scribes to justice?

  2. “Brought to justice” seems like a phrase from a 1950s B western. It would appear in something as well scripted as the Deadwood series only as an inside joke.

  3. You keep repeating in your previous posts that too many people are too sure of themselves. In this post, you don’t seem to appreciate the fact that the suspects will be lawyered up. Do I smell a contradiction?

  4. Isn’t the judicial system the way it is (with their pesky lawyers) to make sure we get the right man? If we bring the suspect “to the end of a short rope with a swift jerk”, aren’t you being pretty sure of yourself, that he is without a doubt guilty of the crime? I thought being too sure of myself was a sin.

  5. The new new phrase is “all in”, gleaned from TV poker tournaments. Similar to “bet the house” and “throw caution to the wind”. It’s a little stronger than “double down”.

    “Get a rope” is an old phrase.

  6. David,

    Ah, I see. No, sir. If you notice below I say, as part of my interpretation of the tiresome phrase, “try and convict”. Once convicted, whomever did the deed should be sent along his way with all dispatch.

    If somebody had bombed your backyard you might feel the same. I and my family live in city. This man, or another, tried to kill me and mine.

    Uncle Mike,

    “All in”, yes. Dreadful.

  7. “Brought to justice” sounds more administrative than punitive, a distant cousin of “Submit in triplicate.”

    I think this usage is shorthand for this person “will be apprehended, read his or her rights, be given a lawyer, appear before judge and jury, and from my personal non-knowledge of the facts, will be given an appropriate sentence or will be exonerated.” In short, the phrase means nothing.

  8. Matt,

    I think this is where I’ll get branded the bleeding heart, but oh well:

    I’d rather that we err on the side of caution in any trial, no matter how heinous the crime, because it’s how we demonstrate our rule of law. It is the rule of law, not an emotional response, that differentiates a civil society from the barbarians at the gates (so to speak.) Or the barbarians inside the gates.

    It is also our willingness to err on the side of caution that makes our judicial system superior to the tribunals of authoritarian societies where it’s a quick mock trial, verdict, sentence, bullet in the head. I am not in favor of swift justice because I distrust the system– so should everyone. It’s flawed and human. Isn’t that the point of a slow system?

    I would rather that a hundred guilty go free than one innocent be killed at the hands of a government. Mob justice– the lynch ’em and show ’em who’s boss line of thinking– is exactly what we should strive to avoid. I am only a half mile from Times Square most days of the week. I’m just as much threatened by the loonies as anyone else. But I’d rather that we spend months, and dollars, trying and retrying than forgetting what makes us the best.

    Many leaders (so-called or actual) make a big to-do about our freedoms being what the terrorists hate. Let’s show them who’s boss and make them hate us like nothin’ else, I say.

  9. Ari,

    Oh, I agree with you. I am not arguing for a mob lynching. A trial is necessary. But once a culprit is convicted—once we are assured of his guilt beyond all reasonable doubt—then he should be punished. At this point, the criminal should meet his rope.

    Your point “a hundred guilty go free than one innocent be killed at the hands of a government” is a good one. But for what number would you say is the limit. Two hundred? A thousand? All? Clearly, the last is foolish: setting murderers and other criminals free ensures a higher body count. Setting all free shows more compassion to criminals than their past and future victims.

  10. No, would not have it so that all criminals go free. Obviously there is a limit to liberty. But I believe that we should err on the side of liberty even in the face of overwhelming odds. I fear the enemy of liberty at home more than I fear the barbarian at the gates.

    That said, I think that it is necessary that we all give up some liberty to have a functional government. This is clear from Hobbes and Locke. But how much? And where? And when?

    Unfortunately, I think most Americans are happy to give up their civil liberties as long as we get shopping malls in return.

    I also am against the death penalty not because I think it’s inhumane. Far from it. I think it’s too costly. We establish a high bar for it because we know that it’s the ultimate encroachment upon a person’s liberty, and we thus fear its use. In my opinion, I’d rather that we lock someone up in an Alcatraz. But alas, we’re too busy showing it to Yuppies.

  11. Ari, at times like these it’s difficult to remember that our seriously flawed and partially broken legal system, from the local police on up through the prosecutors, courts and [when necessary] the prison facilities, as flawed as they all may be – are still among the fairest in the world. So thank you for the first part of your comment. It was a needed reminder.

    But when you incorporate a discussion of “justice” with or against consideration of a death penalty, you stray from the ideal into a realm of personal opinion and preference. On point of fact I’m alive today because years ago an armed burglar knew he was in a state that enforced the death penalty and intentionally discarded and moved away from his weapons as I approached. So I know that as a deterrent, fear of the imposition of a death penalty sometimes works. As barbaric as it may seem to some sensibilities, using a criminal’s instinct for self preservation to prevent certain crimes seems like a worthwhile societal goal. In order to keep that instinct honed and focused, the penalty must sometimes be enforced. Maybe not important to anyone else, but my offspring seem to appreciate the point.

  12. phrases that are emotionally superior to “bring him to justice”:

    String him up. It’ll teach him a lesson.

    Or,

    Hangin’s too good for him.

  13. Briggs,

    Add “foisted” to your list of political metaphors.

    Nothing was “foisted” on anyone. You witnessed a representative democracy in action.

    Keep in mind that it is possible for 25% plus one to rule over 75% minus 1 in a system such as ours. And this is the god — democracy — we fight to force on the rest of the world.

    Your real issue should be the unconstitutionality of Obamacare. But the Constitution was a dying letter within days of being signed.

    It was, of course, drafted behind closed doors and under false pretences. In other words, it was “foisted” on the folks in the several states.

    Question: Does it even matter how many Americans support (or supported) Obamacare?

  14. Mr. Briggs,

    Good post. There are a lot of cases where guilt is not obvious. This doens’t look like one. Where these guys are found clearly guilty, we deed to deal with them harshly. I’d send them to Yeman. If we find out where the guy was trained in Pakistan, bomb those bastards. Don’t like your town being bombed, don’t allow terrorists to train there.

  15. Ahem. Committed mayhem did he?

    Wilfully caused bodily injury and crippled and mutilated others.

    I missed those news reports.

  16. “That it was picked up so quickly and used so often reveals plenty about the lemming-like nature of journalists. “

    Which particular characteristic of lemmings did you have in mind for this metaphor? Their tendency to follow one another to destruction, perhaps? Sit down while I tell you, Disney lied! (and threw the lemmings off the cliff to make the film).

    The Wikipedia article on lemmings suggests that the myth is now so firmly entrenched that the metaphor is now independent of reality. And what does that tell us?

  17. John,

    I was ignorant of that definition, which I enjoyed learning; thanks very much. I went with the modern “violent and needless disturbance.”

    Rich,

    Yet another problem of definitions. This one I knew of, but went with it because the myth is so well known.

  18. Drinking the cool-aid is a stupid one I hear with too much frequency, mostly by people who don’t know the origin.

  19. I fear the enemy of liberty at home more than I fear the barbarian at the gates.
    .
    This statement depends on experience .
    Most Europeans made acquintance with both , often and not so long ago .
    The lesson taught is exactly the contrary sofar .
    The main reason being that the ennemy of liberty at home will not do more than deprive you more or less of some liberty .
    Experience shows that he will be mostly interested to deprive you of the liberty of speech and travel , eventually with some creative variations .
    Sure he will come down harshly on those who don’t accept the rules and generally has the ressources to enforce those rules but won’t bother those who play along .
    Despite lofty philosophical arguments , hundreds of millions have lived without such liberties for decades (it was f.ex the case of my parents) and sometimes even in quite acceptable conditions .
    .
    On the other hand for the barbarian at the gates liberty is an irrelevant matter that doesn’t even deserve to be mentionned .
    For him it doesn’t make any difference whether you are free or not – he simply doesn’t care .
    For he has much more important things to do !
    Burn , rape , loot , destroy and kill – that’s why he came first place anyway .
    And when he goes away , the dead may have all the freedom they wish .
    .
    So the barbarians at the gates are to be feared infinitely more than any ennemy of liberty at home .
    Of course in the best of possible worlds one would prefer to have neither .
    But if there must be a choice , then time is a good weapon against ennemies of freedom at home but the only good weapon against barbarians at the gate is to vitrify the places they live in without any additional consideration .

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