By Scott Butterworth | TheWashingtonPost.com
President Obama began his weekly Internet and radio address on Saturday with these words: "This past Thursday, on a clear Texas afternoon, an Army psychiatrist walked into the Soldier Readiness Processing Center, and began shooting his fellow soldiers."
Did the president, speaking directly about the man suspected in the killings, prejudice any jury that might be called to hear the case? At the least, he appeared to fall afoul of a lesson that every journalism student -- and law student -- learns early: The safest way to avoid yourself some trouble is to couch such a flat assertion of guilt.
That is why news organizations scrambled to rewrite their stories Thursday night after an Army general changed his story about the suspected gunman. You can't libel the dead, goes the legal doctrine, and the general had said the gunman was dead. So the media felt pretty comfortable with stories asserting that Maj. Nidal M. Hasan was the man who had killed so many at the Army post.
But once Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, the commander at Fort Hood, said that Hasan had not been killed but rather was hospitalized and in no imminent threat of dying, news anchors, reporters and editors hurried to add the words "suspected" and "allegedly" and "believed to have" to their scripts and stories.
Obama said the "act of violence" by the psychiatrist was "heartbreaking" and "despicable" and "horrified us." It was even "the worst of human nature on full display." The speech included not a single "reportedly."
Then again, Obama is not the first president to stray from the well-trod path of "not prejudging an investigation." For instance, President George W. Bush did so in December 2005, saying in an interview with the Fox News Channel that he believed former House majority leader Tom DeLay was innocent of money laundering and conspiracy charges.
Asked about whether Bush had just prejudged -- and prejudiced -- a criminal case, White House press secretary Scott McClellan replied, "Call it a presidential prerogative."
The Obama White House had no comment.
Article from: WashingtonPost.com