Innocence is more than words

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October  2005

 Did you ever notice that when public figures are accused of some criminal activity that they loudly shout their innocence? Seldom are they found innocent, however.  The range of people who engage in this “innocence” banter covers a wide spectrum.

            The most recent political example of this is House Speaker Tom DeLay. Not only did he claim, “I’m innocent”, he blamed the judge for giving in to the influence of the Democratic Party in Texas. In other words, it was all a sham, even a vendetta against him. Within a week, he was indicted on another charge.

            Another famous example is President Richard Nixon’s protestation of innocence  in November 1973, “I am not a crook!” And, of course those of us old enough to remember those Nixon years know the Watergate scandal forced him to be the first president to resign from office. It was that or face impeachment proceedings.

                                                                                                                                          Of course everyone remembers President Bill Clinton’s infamous statement that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman.” He became only the second president to be impeached. Like Andrew Johnson in the mid-nineteenth century, he was not found guilty of the impeachment charges.

In the sports world, Kobe Bryant said, “I’m innocent” in asserting before a packed that he was not guilty of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old Colorado woman.

Earlier this year, the rapper Snoop Dogg, declared his innocence on the Larry ing show after being accused of raping a make up artist after a show, according to Daily Hip Hop News.

CBS News reported in June 2002 that the entertainer Winona Ryder declared her innocence after being accused of shoplifting and drugs.

Ken Lay of Enron declared “I firmly reject any notion that I engaged in any wrongful or criminal activity," according to TalkLeft website. In 2004, when he was charged on 11 counts, he pled “not guilty” to all of them, according to the BBC News. With apologies to William Shakespeare, methinks they doth protest too much. For many,  the charges against them are later found to be accurate.

At some level all of these people probably believe they are innocent or perhaps they are just trying to keep the good reputation they had prior to the accusations.

Some of those who claim innocence also blame the media for distorting their situation. The media is not always objective and some reporters have an ax to grind. This still doesn’t seem to be a productive argument to prove one’s innocence.

However, on a different basis, it would be more honorable thing to admit the error and move on. I always believed, and still do, that Nixon would not have faced impeachment proceedings had he admitted his involvement in the Watergate scandal. The American people can be very forgiving sometimes. Of course taking responsibility is the Christian (honorable, if you are not a Christian) thing to do also.

            An example of taking responsibility is the late Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, who was accused of sexually abusing a young man during the early years of his priesthood. Rather than proclaim innocence, he met with the man and talked about the accusation. It was resolved without litigation and without publicity stunts of declarations of innocence.

            So, let us take with a huge grain of salt the protestations of innocence by famous people as well as the media accounts of the events and let the justice system handle each case. After all, that too is an honorable American behavior: innocent until proven guilty.

            Let us also take responsibility for our own actions rather than blame someone else, whether that be a family member, co-worker, or society.