Monday, December 06, 2004

Column on Law & Order

The Corruption of Law & Order

Tibor R. Machan

No, this time I am only indirectly speaking about the terrible legal
system that the USA is now sliding toward. Instead, it is the TV show, Law
& Order, that comes up for discussion. But, once again, it is for its slow

When the show began there was a healthy idealism about it. The initial
story lines stressed principles not only of law but of justice. Michael
MoriarityÂ?s Assistant DA was motivated from conviction and the ideas and
ideals that guided him were mostly truly valuable.

In time others came to the show, left it, and Sam Waterson, while very
competent and often dealing with very significant issuesÂ?such as
individual responsibility versus excuses for how one behavesÂ?isnÂ?t given
as many occasions for soaring as was his predecessor on the show. Much of
the show now is torturously PC.

Perhaps the most disturbing element of the programÂ?for not always dealing
with monumental themes is not something for which a TV program ought to be
chidedÂ?is how the most recent addition to the characters, one who replaces
Lenny, that of Dennis Ferina, has brought some really objectionable traits
to the way the police are depicted. Or, are the writers perhaps aiming to
be more realistic?

FerinaÂ?s character is given the role of bullying. A night club owner is
nearly coerced into giving him help by using the threat of closing down
his establishment for trivial violations of some kind of city regulations.
This approach to gathering information, which really indicts the
detectives for lacking the skill to proceed within the guidelines of due
process, is not OK at all. It is vicious, a form of police malpractice,
yet the show makes no mention of that fact, no one is called on the carpet
to answer for such conduct. By omission, then, Law & Order is now
endorsing injustice, somewhat akin to how those giving lip service to law
and order in the USA are often doing gross violence to justice, to
individual rights.

As Thomas Aquinas said, Â?A man is said to be just because he respects the
rights (jus) of others.Â? While mere authority shouldnÂ?t count for much,
Aquinas had it right, just as did the American Founders: Political and
legal justice is when the peopleÂ?s rights are respected as they are being
protected. Which means due process.

So many people in our country and elsewhere bellyache about the bad
influence of Hollywood and other producers of entertainment, mainly
because of sex and violence. Well, few would point to Law & Order, the TV
show, but I will. Just as it was with Miami Vice, so it is beginning to be
with Law & Order. The cops canÂ?t do anything wrong.

This is sad. I have myself been a member of the police in my life, an Air
Policeman, and I find it especially annoying to have one of the most
poplar TV shows in the country sanction methods of dealing with the public
they are supposed to serve that are obviously wrong. I and most of my
colleagues struggled hard never to step over the line, never to
intimidate, threaten anyone who hasnÂ?t be shown to be guilty of anything.
It is disturbing that a popular and widely respected TV program would so
betray the profession of the peace officer.

Again, let me make clear: I do not expect drama of Shakespearian caliber
on a TV series. So if Law & Order isnÂ?t any longer its original
exceptional self, such is life. Writers can run out of elevating material.

But itÂ?s another thing entirely to begin to slack off on essentials. And
of police work it is most essential that due process be strictly adhered
to, including in how the profession is depicted when made a vehicle of
entertainment. Talk about promoting perverse moral values!

Alas, it goes to show, once again, that people are often able to fail as
well as succeed. However, when it is not noted clearly and explicitly that
such is our lot, there is even greater danger of malfeasance. The very
corruption of a profession is recklessly glorified on TV.

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