No one tried to understand
what led to Pickett tragedy

Special to the Courier & Press
Thursday, February 22, 2001
The sad, disturbing story of Evansville native Robert Pickett and his protracted struggle for acceptance and personal justice reads like a modern-day version of an ancient Greek tragedy.

 In a matter of seconds, the troubled man who was shot for discharging a firearm on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House transformed his life, his neighborhood and indeed this entire community into a media-age proscenium which spoke volumes about our modern-day perceptions, values and morality as a society.

As Pickett recuperates in a hospital bed, a review of what transpired during the three days after this tragedy gives us some insight into the process of news acquisition in an age of the insatiable 24-hour news cycle.

For that brief season, area residents were given a glimpse of the ugly, corporate, Hydra we now refer to as “the media," how it can descend upon a community like an alien predator, and how incredibly pervasive, intrusive and thoughtless these institutions have become.   It also provided us with a glimpse of the twisted values -- or lack of them -- which these powerful corporate entities unwittingly impose upon a relatively bewildered general public which is often confused, frustrated and outraged by the mixed messages they see projected before them on a daily basis.

In reviewing the almost obscene local newspaper and television coverage of Pickett’s life did it occur to anyone that there might have been some credence to his story?

Here was a man who repeatedly reached out to therapist, psychologist, attorneys, members of Congress and the criminal justice system seeking a redress of how he was wronged in his life.

Did it occur to any of the reporters crawling around his East Side neighborhood to ask some serious questions of Pickett’s former superiors and c-workers at the Internal Revenue Service as to the precise circumstances of his termination.

Why was it simply presumed that they -- government officials all -- were pure as the wind driven snow in the matter?

What was the real story of this man's life which remains buried under the pressure of the compressed news cycle and our thirst for the sensational?

Instead of asking these questions, the New Age arbiters of our twisted sense of public morality consistently focusing upon Pickett’s presumed mental illness, suicidal tendencies and condemned him in the court of public opinion.

What of his arguments?  What led to his psychological problems?  What did he do in his role as self-proclaimed “whistle blower” to require termination at the IRS?   Did he simply revoke and forfeit all of his Constitutional rights as a citizen when he was fired from a federal agency?  No, none of these questions were ever asked nor sufficiently answered.

 The reporters packed up their media show only to move on to the next scene in the modern Greek theatrical. The curtain was brought down and the actors were dispatched to another 30-second segment on the evening news, yet another scene in the unending panorama of human tragedy.
There was an element of irony in a personal experience on the evening that Pickett was shot -- A new friend asked me to join her for dinner and Bible study at a church in Owensboro.
The topic of the Bible study was the story in Luke 7: 36 to 50 in which we are told that Christ forgave the sins of a woman presumed to be a prostitute.  Upon entering a banquet held in the home of Simon, a Pharisee, the fallen woman washed Christ’s feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and anointed them with fragrant oil.  With those in attendance aghast, Jesus told a parable about a creditor who forgave the debts of two debtors.
Showing mercy upon the woman who did what others thought beneath them, he told everyone “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven for she loved much.  But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”
One of the questions on the study discussion sheet asked that if this had happened today, in which section of the newspaper would the story have been reported -- the society page, the gossip column, the religious page or the business section?
Truth be told, this hallowed story of antiquity would probably end up on the cutting room floor, as today news organizations rarely report stories regarding the sentiment of forgiveness.
Sadly, Robert Pickett will probably spend much of the rest of his life in prison or a secure mental institution for a crime in which nobody was hurt except himself and his personal reputation.

Are there any among us who can find it in our hearts to forgive him of his sins -- or at least take a moment to consider what may have actually happened that led to his personal tragedy?

David Coker is an Evansville free-lance writer.