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
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
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
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
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.