Editorial: Thibs, Hastert, Strong and our rush to judgment

  • Republican J. Dennis Hastert holds the gavel after being re-elected Speaker of the House in January 2000.

    Republican J. Dennis Hastert holds the gavel after being re-elected Speaker of the House in January 2000. Associated Press File Photo

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted5/31/2015 1:00 AM

If you follow NBA basketball, you've probably got an opinion about the firing of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. We certainly do.

We've got an opinion on who's the good guy and who's the bad guy in all of this, and we're not alone. Almost every Bulls fan and pundit and sports blogger has an opinion, too.


Note, we and most of the other people with opinions don't know how well Thibodeau relates to his players, don't know whether his bosses Gar Forman and John Paxson micromanage or whether Thibodeau resists the slightest suggestions, don't know how coachable the coach is or isn't, how reasonable or unreasonable he is. We don't know if he's a team guy or a me guy. In reality, we don't know much at all beyond what we see on the court and what we know of the Thibodeau caricature of obsessive work ethic.

But that doesn't stop us from having opinions. Doesn't stop anybody else from having opinions too. Turn on sports talk radio and you'll hear a lot of them. All based for the most part on hunches and personal biases and the scenarios we've concocted in our heads.

It's hard for any of us to admit it, but we often form opinions and then look for or create the facts to support them. This isn't horrible when it comes to arguing about whether a basketball coach should have been fired. It's part of the fun of sports.

But consider the indictment of former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, a son of Chicago's suburbs who rose from a position as a high school wrestling coach to become one of the most powerful political figures in America.

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Can we see a show of hands of anyone who thinks Hastert may be innocent?

If you ask that question, you not only will see only a rare few hands, but most people will think you're naive to have asked it in the first place.

The point here isn't to defend Hastert. We're in no position to know whether he deserves defending. The point is that we're also in no position to know that he's done anything wrong.

In America, we declare that we believe "innocent until proven guilty," but if that's true at all, it's true only in the strictest theoretical legal sense.

In the court of public opinion, if you are charged, it's usually "guilty until proven innocent" and then, sometimes even the proof isn't enough to change the perception.


Last week, Lake County authorities dropped charges against Jason L. Strong, who had spent 15 years in prison on a conviction that he had killed a Carpentersville woman in a Wadsworth motel room.

He's the sixth person to be cleared of a wrongful conviction in Lake County since 2010. Something was amiss in those prosecutions, but the authorities are not solely to blame. In a way, most of us are unknowingly complicit.

When Strong was charged with murder in 1999, the assumption most of us probably made was that he was guilty. Why wouldn't he have been? The police, we assume, don't arrest innocent people.

How easy it is to convict when a prosecution begins with that rush to judgment.

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