Jewish World Review Sept. 10, 2002 / 4 Tishrei, 5763

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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Consumer Reports

Monotone felons


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | When former Ohio congressman James Traficant lost his seat in the House of Representatives this year, the headline in my local newspaper described him as a "colorful felon." Not being felonious or particularly colorful myself, when I read this, a little twang of envy went through me. We bland miscreants just don't get our props, you know?

But after I'd given it some thought, I concluded that being labeled a colorful felon would not give you an advantage in prison. How many lifers got their street cred from wearing loud clothing and sporting bad haircuts? None, I suspect. Even here in the free world, while the media might have got a kick out of Mr. Traficant's shenanigans during his hearings, they didn't cut any ice with his fellow representatives. And, behind bars, there are no media darlings.

So I find myself wondering, aside from the brief chuckle from a jaded journalist, is there any advantage at all to being kooky, eccentric, or flamboyant when lawyers are present? None that I can see. The best approach, near as I can tell, when being asked questions by bureaucrats and/or law enforcement officials is to feign ignorance, and otherwise keep your mouth shut.

Even Martha Stewart, a darling of the media if ever there was one, learned that lesson well. This August, when her documents were summoned to Washington, DC, she did not enclose them in spotlessly off-white accordion folders, tastefully stenciled with silhouettes of wildflowers, nor did she enclose a thoughtful personal thank-you-in-advance -for-not-indicting-me note, hand-written on her personal stationery. She knew better, or at least her lawyers did.

Certain portions of her documents were redecorated, however, well, blacked-out anyway, and you can't go wrong with basic black (so I've heard), not even when lawyers are involved. Lawyers call this redecoration by the more dull term "redaction," though, which again proves my point-- when haute couture or even simple lowbrow highjinks meet the high courts, personality is the first casualty. After truth, of course. .

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JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2001, Ian Shoales