Tuesday, September 18, 2007

An American Perspective on Madeleine McCann


An American Perspective on Madeleine McCann

I was impressed by a perceptive piece by Victoria Burnett that I found on a New York Times page datelined 18 September 2007. Here is a quote, which I have put in square brackets:

[When Lindy Chamberlain went on trial in 1982 in the killing of her 9-week-old daughter, Azaria, the prosecutor presented the jury with two alternatives: either the baby was snatched from her crib by a wild dog in the Australian desert, as Mrs. Chamberlain contended, or she was killed by her mother.

Furnished with incriminating forensic evidence and a profile, infused with innuendo, describing a strange, emotionally detached woman, the jury convicted Mrs. Chamberlain. In what became one of Australia’s most notorious miscarriages of justice, she served four years of a life sentence before the evidence against her was exposed as faulty and she was released in 1986.

Two decades later, the Chamberlain case finds disquieting echoes in the investigation unfolding around Kate and Gerry McCann, who were recently declared suspects by the Portuguese police in the disappearance on May 3 of their 4-year-old daughter, Madeleine. And it raises many of the same questions.

Did the McCanns, as the Portuguese police are now said to contend, accidentally kill Madeleine, hide her body and then mount a savvy international publicity campaign as a smoke screen? Or did the police, under severe pressure to solve the case, seize on dubious evidence to set up the couple as culprits?

The McCanns say Madeleine was snatched from the apartment where she was sleeping while they ate at a nearby restaurant on May 3. The case dragged along inconclusively until the British police were called in to jump-start the investigation.

With British forensic material in hand, the Portuguese police reportedly told the couple this month that the evidence suggested that they killed Madeleine and hid her body, eventually moving it in the trunk of a car they rented 25 days after the child’s disappearance. The police offered Kate McCann a plea bargain if she confessed to killing her daughter accidentally, family friends and a spokeswoman said.

The McCanns strenuously denied the accusations, which are being evaluated by a Portuguese prosecutor, who will decide the next step. They may never face a jury, but as they undergo public trial around the dinner tables of Britain and in the international news media, Mrs. Chamberlain’s experience offers cautionary notes on how flawed evidence and speculation can turn victim into convict.

In each case the initial explanation — that Azaria was killed by a dingo, and that Madeleine was taken by a random predator — was trumped by an accusation that the mother was in fact the culprit. Through a prism of suspicion, both women began to appear odd, aloof and insufficiently bereft to fit the profile of grieving mother.

Whatever the truth in the McCanns’ case, overnight they found themselves in a “world where lack of hard evidence is taken as proof of guilt and innocent explanations are twisted to fit our darkest suspicions,” Allison Pearson, a columnist for The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, wrote Wednesday.]

This very nicely captures the similarity between the case of the McCanns and that of the Chamberlains.

The URL on which I found this text was as follows:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/18/world/europe/18portugal.html?ref=world

However, the usual pattern with New York Times pieces is that they very shortly become unavailable unless you sign up for an online subscription, which gives you access to their archives.

To my way of thinking, this American perspective on the McCann situation is cool, perceptive and level-headed, engaged with the situation but with rationality not overthrown by emotion.

The same cannot be said for a web page that I was led to by a link which someone chose to tack onto the end of my previous blog about the McCanns and Lindy Chamberlain.

The URL for this is as follows, and this one, I think, will still be there for the foreseeable future:

http://www.petitiononline.com/McCann2/petition.html

This page gives you an anti-McCann petition to sign, if you care to, and it is written in terms of utter hatred, the petitioners setting themselves up as the champions of Madeleine, fighting for justice for her, justice which they seek to impose on the McCanns, who they see as being aided by the evil British Government.

The page is headed thus:

"Madeleine McCann: British politicians should stop interfering and spinning in this case."

Gordon Brown's government has tasked someone to look out for the McCanns, this someone being a guy whose name you will find in the following diatribe:

"We, the undersigned, find it wholly inappropriate that a Gordon Brown spin doctor (A.K.A. Director of the British Government?s Media Monitoring Unit, Clarence Mitchell) has resigned to immediately become the Official Spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann, parents who not only regularly neglected their children, but are now suspected of killing Madeleine McCann. The Madeleine McCann case should never have been politicised. The case should only be about seeing justice served for Madeleine."

Class hatred surfaces in the next paragraph, reminding me of the class conscious society that I remember from a time spent living and working in London back in the 1980s.

(Parenthetically, though, what really drove home in my mind was the conversation of a group of Brits who were chatting over a trailbreak coffee outside a mountain hut deep in the Nepal Himalaya, in the general vicinity of Annapurna. There, in one of the most majestic landscapes to be found anywhere on planet Earth, a world removed from Britain, they were talking about the British class system, and about how it is no longer an important factor in British life. I kid you not.)

Anyway, here is the petition swinging into guillotines and tumbrels mode:

"It is unheard of for British politicians to back possible murder suspects and we understand that Clarence Mitchell had previously been acting as the McCanns? media advisor, courtesy of the British taxpayer. We also understand that Gordon Brown has already personally interfered in this case. Would Gordon Brown have interfered in a police investigation if the McCanns worked in a factory or down a coal mine and left three children alone in an unlocked council flat to go down to the pub? Of course he wouldn't."

My own take on Gordon Brown, viewing him remotely from a distance, is that he is a tough guy who is going to be capable of facing up to the challenges of the turbulent waters that he is swimming in. But, while tough, to my mind he also comes across as sober minded and level-headed.

Reading the rhetoric of the diatribe, it's difficult to avoid coming to the conclusion that "possible murder suspects" is intended to translate in the minds of readers as "murderers."

"We urge that due process is allowed to take place without any more British political interference or spin by Clarence Mitchell, which may be construed as a disgraceful attempt to save the face of the British Prime Minister. It is essential, therefore, that Clarence Mitchell immediately resigns as spokesman for the McCanns and a clear separation is made between the British government and the McCanns."

Speaking for myself, if I had been on holiday in the United States and suddenly found myself arrested on suspicion of having been one of the gang of boys who were in with O.J. on the hotel sports memorabilia heist, I would have no objection if the New Zealand Government came rushing to my aid, and provided me with a spokesperson to aid me against the American cops who were trying to frame me.

As for this Clarence Mitchell guy, how does he see things?

He's the guy seen in the picture with the piece of paper in his hands, the man on his right being Gerry McCann and the woman being Kate McCann.

Here is Clarence Mitchell in his own words:

"To suggest that they somehow harmed Madeleine accidentally or otherwise is as ludicrous as it is nonsensical."

He goes on to say this:

"The focus must now return to Madeleine and move away from the rampant, unfounded and inaccurate speculation of recent days."

I think I understand his motivation. He sees, I think, that we are living through a replay of the Salem witch trials, and he, for his part, doesn't want to just stand idly by and watch a lynching go down.

That's what I think I see.

But how about these Hatreds R Us people who organized the anti-McCann petition that I quoted above?

The petition has a copyright notice which reads as follows:

© 1999-2005 Artifice, Inc.

Obviously the copyright notice is out of date.

To try to get a handle on who these people are, I went uphill from

http://www.petitiononline.com/McCann2/petition.html

to

http://www.petitiononline.com/

This is what they say on their homepage:

"PetitionOnline.com provides free online hosting of
public petitions for responsible public advocacy."

The site also says this:

"We give you the ancient methods of grassroots democracy, combined with the latest digital networked communications, running live and free 24 hours a day."

If you do want to find out who the Artifice crowd is, there is an itty bitty little link right at the foot of the page which goes here:

http://www.artifice.com/about_artifice.html

They're a digital design outfit, apparently doing an excellent job of facilitating troublemaking on the Internet.

And there's a link on the www.petitiononline.com homepage that you can click, a very tempting link that says "Start your own free petition today!"

That's kind of tempting, yes. Who in the world do I want to make trouble for today?

This McCann petition, as I see it, is hate mail for the modern age, not hiding out behind the lace curtain but bold and brazen, standing clear in the sunlight and waving the banner of "grassroots democracy."

If you do by chance want to join a public lynching, well, the link to the petition is on this page. But me, I'll sit back and watch.

What this brings to mind, more than anything, is a performance of Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE that I saw many years ago in Auckland, New Zealand, one of the very few pieces of live theater that I've ever seen in my entire life. It's ostensibly about the Salem witch trials.

With that memory in mind, I was curious enough to Google the play, and arrived at this page:

http://www.aresearchguide.com/crucible.html

Very well organized, or so my first glance seems to indicate. What caused me to click for this page was the word that jumped out at me from the Google snippet, the word in question being "hysteria."

Yeah, that's where we are right now, I think. Lynch mob hysteria, heading in the direction of Hell by way of a road which is paved by good intentions.

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