Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Juvenile Justice: Howard Dean's kid Paul gets spared any real consequences. There are several issues here, not least of which is the media's treatment of such stories. What coverage young Dean got was typically superficial, with the standard grave nodding of heads to phrases like "big mistake" and "he surely regrets this." Compare with the media coverage Jenna Bush suffered when she flashed a phony ID. She became the poster child for a supposed epidemic of drunk, out-of-control youth. The press asked: "Does she have a drinking problem already?" "How does this fit in with her father's decision to give up drinking?" "Does alcoholism run in the family?" Recall that Paul Dean wasn't involved in just underage drinking or fake proof; he was charged in a case that involved burglary (of booze), with a more serious B&E charge, it seems, narrowly avoided. Recall, too, that Al Gore's son was variously nabbed for smoking pot at school, speeding, and DUI. The media, at the request of The Veep Himself, treated it all as a non-story. Are we talking about media bias? Who the hell knows? It may be a case of slow news days or bored editors, but one can't discount the effect of a call from the number 2 man to a metro editor.

At any rate, it's also indicative of the no-consequences tier of the juvenile justice system. I know people who, in their young and irresponsible days, found much more trouble for much less serious offenses than those of the Gore, Bush, and Dean kids. And I'm not heavy breathing about ghetto kids in a racist system, either; I'm talking about no-priors, honor-roll, suburban honkies whose parents were, say, schoolteachers or firefighters, not former governors, connected lawyers, or wealthy physicians. I think a lot of people are willing to overlook the slap-on-the-wrist justice meted out in cases like this, thinking that when their kids "make mistakes," they'll deserve the same second-chance justice. It doesn't work that way.

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