How to have your outrage and eat it too.

Melbourne’s morning tabloid led angrily yesterday with the “Tears and Fury” that followed Thomas Graham Towle’s conviction on six charges of dangerous driving causing death. He was found not guilty of culpable driving. That was the problem.

“The families of six Mildura teens killed in a horror smash say justice has abandoned them after the driver was yesterday cleared of serious culpable driving charges.” Yesterday’s story ran over four pages and went on to hog Melbourne talkback and the TV news. “The verdict allows the Herald Sun to reveal the extent of Towle’s prior convictions – details not known to the jury.” “No justice, say families.” On it went. “Mates left to suffer.” “No end to dad’s sorrow.” The subtext? That justice abandons the victims to mollycoddle the perpetrator, a man whose true character was concealed from the jury, who had they but known…

It’s a routine tabloid cheap shot. Wallow in the grief of the victim, decry the lenience of the courts, forget that justice exists not to deliver vengeance but to mete, well, justice. What would be the alternative, what might appease the demand of the thundering headlines? Should we abandon formal sentencing and simply deliver the guilty man to a grieving mob of victims, friends and family?

Which takes us to day two and this morning’s editorial, “In defence of the jury”, a sober, reasoned piece that even makes the case for excluding details from a trial that might prejudice a jury’s deliberations. The paper in a day has moved from “What the jury didn’t hear” to “a jury would be prejudiced if it were told of previous convictions”.

Which is a neat demonstration of how a newspaper’s thirst for headlines and sensation can easily overwhelm its better judgment.

Peter Fray

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