The Bangor Daily News’ Ill-Considered Editorial
by Al Diamon
Christopher Knight, dubbed by police and the media as the “North Pond Hermit,” is sitting in jail. Over the past 27 years, while living a solitary life in a makeshift camp in the woods of Rome, he may have been involved in as many as a thousand break-ins at seasonal camps. He faces charges of burglary and theft. His bail is $250,000.
If Knight had spent the last three decades hitting condos in Portland or hotel rooms in Bar Harbor, his arrest might have attracted as much attention, but I doubt the reaction would have been the same. There’s usually little sympathy in populated areas for serial criminals – whatever their motivations. If Knight had made a habit of knocking off hunting camps in the Allagash or breaking into cars in Millinocket, he’d have been regarded as a serious nuisance and dealt with accordingly – by the law or the locals, whichever found him first.
Somehow, though, Knight’s retreat-from-civilization-for-no-clear-reason shtick has skewed his image in the minds of some folks who ought to know better. He’s become the subject of a warped form of hero worship for no other reason than that he’s behaved oddly – and antisocially – for most of his adult life.
Here’s an example of that adulation:
“Though Knight allegedly stole from camp owners to survive, his extraordinary circumstances justify a level of respect not usually accorded petty thieves.”
Or how about this:
“People don’t have to admire that he may have stolen from camps to marvel at the length of time of his seclusion or his ingenuity. If a court finds him guilty, he will be punished for his crimes. But think of what he endured.”
“Even though he set aside typical human behavior and has been made into something of a folk legend already, this state is his home. Welcome him home.”
These remarkable reactions may read like the sophomoric yearnings of bleeding-heart activists, the sort that believe all alleged criminals are victims of society’s indifference and/or hostility, and therefore aren’t liable for their inability to conform to the law. But that’s not the case.
This chapter of the Christopher Knight Fan Club is located in the editorial offices of the Bangor Daily News. The above quotes came from the lead editorial in the April 13 edition of the paper and are presumably the work of opinion editor Erin Rhoda.
The glorification of a guy, who – stripped of all the hype – appears to be a career criminal, is certainly an odd position for a mainstream daily newspaper to take. As someone who makes much of his living expressing contrary and unpopular opinions, I’m hesitant to criticize Rhoda and the BDN for casting off the bounds of conventionality. But this isn’t a signed column. It’s the official voice of an institution. Even in these times of declining newspaper circulation, it still carries some weight.
As a veteran editor, who asked not to be named, pointed out to me, “Editorial writing is the art of persuasion — inanity, false conclusions and sloppy thinking have no place in editorial writing. In this case, it’s not the opinion that should be under attack, it’s that she makes the argument so lazily, emotionally and badly.”
The editor goes on to say, “It’s an example of the tendency by too many journalists to see everybody as a victim, without seeing who the real victims are.”
Editorials are supposed to be reasonably thoughtful and sophisticated, displaying an effort to examine the thinking behind a wide range of public opinion without pandering to any particular segment of the population. They aren’t the place for quirky bits of fluff.
As many of the comments below this editorial demonstrate (“The only way he survived is by stealing. If you had lived in the area and had been repeatedly stolen from I’m not sure you’d be so ready to put him up on a pedestal”), Rhoda’s readers have a clearer idea of what’s important in the real world than she does.
Disclosure: The Bangor Daily News and The Bollard have a business relationship.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.