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Evan Whitton
17 October, 2005  
Intellectual torpor

H.L. Mencken, Justice Frank Vincent, Kerry O’Brien, Robert Richter, Ray Williams and William Blackstone all have important mentions in this dissertation on the importance of scepticism


Intellectual torpor (IT) can be good; it avoids straining the muscles of the brain. People in the legal trade may be entitled to a spot in the IT Hall of Fame, but they have an excuse, feeble as it may be.

I am inclined to give the IT accolade to some in the disreputable trade invented by Defoe on February 19, 1704. For example, my 27-year period of masterly torpidity on the law (see Justinian August 11, 2004) was seriously in breach of the trade’s oldest rule: tell the customers what is really going on in the town where you publish.

An ancillary rule is that laid down by the patron saint of political reporters, Mr. H. L. Mencken:

“The only way a reporter should look at a politician is down.”

Scepticism is thus the essential tool of the political reporter’s trade, but those in the US corporate media tend to look up to a dangerous fool, G. Walker Bush, as if he were a reputable statesman. Their bosses presumably insist.

Watergate thus remains the only major scandal properly reported, and even that triumph is now suspect. Mr. D. Throat’s agenda looks increasingly dubious, and his conduit, Mr R. Woodward, is being unkindly referred to as “stenographer to the establishment”.

Even our excellent Homers can nod.

A usually reliable source advises that Mr P. Hartcher, international editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, is properly sceptical in Bubble Man: Alan Greenspan and the Missing 7 Trillion Dollars (Black Inc 2005). Nonetheless, he accused Mr Bush of “revolutionary idealism” on August 19. Idealism? Revolutionary?

imageAnd the ABC’s 7.30 Report’s September 20 piece on the current Jaidyn Leskie inquest did not inform their viewers of the implications of the fact that a criminal trial is anti-truth and an inquest is pro-truth. Perhaps they were constrained by time and space.

Put briefly, Mr Gregory Domaszewicz was accused of the 1997 murder of Jaidyn, 13-months. At his 1998 trial, presided over by Justice F.H. Rivers Vincent (snapped here on the right), he was found not guilty, but the jury did not hear all the available evidence. The Victorian Coroner, Mr Graeme Johnstone, is expected to deliver the report of his inquest next year.

Mr K. O’Brien, editor of The 7.30 Report, advised viewers that “many senior lawyers are critical of the fact that millions of dollars have been spent examining a case that had already been the subject of a Supreme Court trial”.

One such was Mr R. Richter. He said “there were charges of murder and there was an acquittal, and that should have been it”.

Mr Richter is of course justly famous for many things. He may have set a world record in 1996 when he persuaded Justice F.H. Rivers Vincent to conceal – wrongly according to the appeal court – the evidence of all 130-odd prosecution witnesses in a case in which Messrs Peter Scanlon, Kenneth Biggins and John Dorman Elliott were accused of stealing $66 million.

Better still, he dealt with proper severity an ABC reporter who had the shocking form to ask his client, Mr R. Williams – the man formerly in charge at HIH and now sadly a guest of Her Majesty – a question on the footpath outside the HIH Royal Commission. Mr Richter warned the reptile off the course proper with a thunderous:

“Have you no ETHICS!”

imagePace Mr Richter (seen here) and The 7.30 Report, the real question about a proceeding such as the Jaidyn inquest is: are relatives of the victim and the community entitled to know the truth of what happened? If they are, it is unfortunately necessary to use a mechanism that does not conceal the truth.

But that only raises another question which does not as a rule furrow the brow of media types, presumably because of IT: why are victims and the community not entitled to the truth in the first place?

Which brings us back to the excuse of judges and lawyers for succumbing to their little dose of IT: they were taught by legal academics who in turn have the excuse that the mountebank Blackstone, who invented their trade in 1753, encouraged positivism/ “internalism”.

That is, the common law being next door to perfection, there is no point in doing a bit of research on why it might seem to the ignorant to have but a nodding acquaintance with justice, how it happened, and what to do about it.