Sed Contra: Court TV USA

Deal W. Hudson
May 1, 1998

If you were a classroom teacher during the ’70s and ’80s, like I was, you probably noticed how students were adopting talk-show manners. The intensity of feeling, not a logical inference, was treated as the surest criterion of truth. To protect these privileged feelings, the font of wisdom, self-esteem became the purpose of pedagogy. Such silliness could only last so long. Now the spectacles of the ’90s are fashioning a different species of truth. As the TV therapist was replaced by the TV lawyer, we have become less preoccupied with defending our feelings than with doing what lawyers do—that is, defending our interests.

Within boundaries of morally neutral ethical rules, lawyers are pledged to pursue their client’s interests. Often the facts fall victim to zealous advocacy. But the advocacy model is not to blame. When capable counsel, fairly matched, represent competing interests before a neutral fact-finder, the system works quite well. But a media-saturated environment such as ours creates mutant offspring of noble parentage. With the spectacle of O.J., the Menendez brothers, the nanny, and now the president himself, our culture has become obsessed with legal-speak.

The advocacy model of disputing truth, which should be confined to the courtroom, has spilled over into the public square. The radio call-in show, not Oprah or Phil, is the new paradigm. We trust such advocacy to work in court due to the presence of a neutral, and presumably wise, arbiter—the judge. The possibility of fairness is created by the interaction of the three sides, with the authority of law and court providing a basis of sound judgment. Just as therapy is best confined to the doctor-patient relationship, so the techniques of legal advocacy are best left in the courthouse.

Public discourse now rings with the strident voices of those who accuse and those who defend. There is no room for the give and play of dialectic, the sifting through of evidence, the gradual adjustment of opinion before reaching a conclusion. The feminist unwillingness to recognize the abuses of presidential power against women is a good case in point. “That’s my story and I’m sticking with it,” the punchline of an old joke, has now become the mantra of the lawyer-turned-celebrity.

It should come as no surprise that pure willfulness has come on the heels of the past decade’s emotivism. When Donahue turned Socrates into a therapist with a hand mike, it was inevitable that Johnnie Cochran would eventually fill the time slot. When minds go soft someone will take advantage. Exalted feelings, no matter how rarefied, can hardly withstand the rhetorical intimidation of a legal intelligence motivated solely by the will to win.

The public, caught between the contradictory claims of rival attorneys, can only despair of ever knowing the truth. The media pundits, for the most part, have fallen into the same habit of judging arguments by the political allegiances of the person making them. An argument is credible, we are told because the person advancing it has no ulterior motive, no ties to a right-wing conspiracy, no lucrative book deals in the offing. The possibility of truth-telling itself, or objectivity as it used to be known, seems more and more remote.

One state judge in Virginia told me that this growing skepticism has already affected juries: “We are not sure what we know anymore. We don’t have any tacit knowledge anymore.” With common sense destroyed, he explained, jurors put too much confidence in purely empirical evidence and not enough on what we used to know about the connections between human nature, personal character, human habits, and predictable action. Jurors have become so familiar with the language of lawyers, they have started to think like them, which they are not supposed to do. “We need jurors who think like people, not like the attorneys who are arguing the case.”

The trouble is that people think differently in different ages. The intellectual machinery is the same, but the mental habits change. And with the rise of Court TV USA the mental habits of postmodernism are upon us: Like politics, as described by Henry Adams, public debate is nothing other than the “organization of hatreds.” That someone may be honest is the last thing considered. We only want to know what side he is on.

Motives have become the only relevant fact in a culture where everything is relative. Justice has been reduced to pure partisanship, the function of whose interests are represented by the person speaking. We are all “hired guns” to protect the hegemony of our sex, race, class, religion, and political persuasion. In our Court TV culture, facts are malleable and strategy is king.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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