This afternoon, the heretofore obscure name "Sharlene Simon" trended on Twitter. The National Post reported a story on Thursday that was more or less repeated by The Toronto Sun the following day and went peak viral midday today about a Sharlene Simon "suing the dead boy she ran over".
Needless to say it hit all the InstaOutrage g-spots: “frivolous” lawsuits, seemingly absurd premise, human cruelty, an appeal to a general sense that we live in uniquely immoral and irresponsible times. Enough to make Nancy Grace's plastic head explode. What didn't matter, and what never matters, is a few tiny details that, while certainly not justifying the lawsuit in question, would probably have gone a long way to reduce the overall volume of slanderous bile and death threats leveled at Ms. Simon by the outrage brigade on social media.
1. Despite what most people think, Simon is not suing the victims' families' in response to the accident, she's countersuing in response to what (she alleges) has been a year of harassment and litigation after being cleared of criminal wrongdoing.
2. The original article is from noted outrage tabloid, The National Post and cites none of its sources, including the actual lawsuit that was filed five months ago. All we have is one-sided assertions by the defendants and their lawyers. While perhaps righteous, that's not journalism, that's stenography.
3. This isn’t a random lawsuit, it's a countersuit in response to the families' original suit. The majority of all claims result in counterclaims and suing every party in question - while unseemly - is entirely par for course.
4. Most reports heavily imply Simon’s husband was a police officer connected to or on the payroll of the police department responsible for the investigation. This is false, there’s no evidence linking him to the investigation.
Still pissed cuz it involved KIDS and EVIL trial lawyers!?
Now the driver of the SUV, Sharlene Simon, 42, a mother of three, formerly from Innisfil, is suing the dead boy for the emotional trauma she says she has suffered. She’s also suing the two other boys, as well as the dead boy’s parents, and even his brother, who has since died.
Without sourcing the actual lawsuit this claim is impossible to parse. And since it's sealed except for what the victims' families' selectively leak to the press we have no way of verifying any of this. Interestingly, The National Post does not mention anything about the dead teen (as such) or his dead brother being defendants in the lawsuit which, had they read the same document, would seem like a fairly important fact.
The report also states: “No breathalyzer was performed."
But The National Post says a "roadside screening device" was used on Simon and it found no evidence of alcohol :
While the most common "roadside screening device" is a breathalyzer it's not the only one. This material fact was left out of the The Toronto Sun, and thus subsequent, reports. The claim, without mention of the other BAL test and its exculpatory conclusion, gives the false impression of both drunkenness and a broader conspiracy by the local police to cover-up said drunkenness.
Perhaps these, and other, qualifers would have changed one's opinion about the case. Perhaps they wouldn't have. But accusing someone of being a soulless monster in the media - while leaving out material facts, not giving the party a chance to comment, and not citing a single primary source document - is pitchfork and flame journalism at its lowest and most dangerous. Viral outrage and the media hacks who trade in it are making us all stupid and cruel.
For a more humanist appeal read this excellent top comment from reddit user bebetta.
UPDATE: Per "Overlooked Fact 6", USA Today has since corrected their story.
Media critic vigilantism at its finest.