One bad decision

Bill Ritter's daily take on the news.

March 16, 2012 1:35:20 PM PDT
I tell my kids - more often than I suspect they want to hear it - that it takes just one little wrong turn to turn your life upside down. One mistake, one stupid decision, one let's-go-along-with-the-crowd moronic moment to ruin - well, everything.

Dharun Ravi is probably feeling that tonight. He's probably felt that way for a while. But nothing like he does tonight. Not after a jury found him guilty of a hate crime and invasion of privacy in a web cam spying case that sparked a nationwide discussion about cyber-bullying and became a symbol of anti-gay behavior.

The trial was dramatic - both for its content and for its back-and-forth tide of who seemed to be winning. The invasion of privacy seemed something of a slam dunk; the bias crime part seemed the toss up. I know the debate in the newsroom has been lively about it. Did he say anti-gay things? Testimony in court was clear that he did.

But it also seemed clear that if his roommate, Tyler Clementi, had, for example, brought back a girl to his room instead of a boy, that Mr. Ravi would likely have spied on him in that case as well. "It's college," said one staffer here today. "It's more about spying on sex than about spying on gay sex."

Perhaps that's true, but the big difference - the HUGE difference - is that Mr. Clementi was apparently so mortified by all this, he committed suicide. That was the game changer in this case - the sad and tragic and inexcusable game changer.

And while it's true Mr. Ravi's life has suddenly taken a 180 - he faces up to 10 years in prison (he'll likely serve less) and possible deportation to India - Mr. Clementi's life ended. And that trumps everything.

There's no winner in this case - just two losers. But there may also be - and pardon the cliché - a teachable moment here. Maybe the "it's college" line doesn't work anymore as an excuse for bad behavior that borders on bias.

It certainly worked wonderfully on the big screen in the movie "Chinatown," when the retired cop says to Jack Nicholson's character, "Forget about it, Jake. It's Chinatown." But we shouldn't allow that kind of rationalization anymore in real life.

If the trial can spark more discussions and get people thinking about how hurtful their actions might be; if it can help confront bullying, on the web or on the playground or in the frat, then perhaps Tyler Clementi's desperate suicide will have some meaning.

I'm just sayin'.

We'll have reaction to the verdict - from those affected and the jurors, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, our Nina Pineda and 7 On Your Side looks at some of the myths and facts about those gas-saving tips that are now making the rounds. Is it really safe, for example, to put your car in neutral while you're driving downhill, or when you're stopped at a red light? You might save gas, but you're losing control of the car as well. Nina takes a closer look.

And finally, a personal note about Bill Beutel, a mentor to so many of us, a friend, and a legendary anchor here at Eyewitness News. This Sunday marks the sixth anniversary of his death. He was more than just an important fixture here at WABC TV. His smarts and style and scruples are the benchmarks by which many of us measure our own work.

And so this weekend, we think of Bill, and what he meant for so many years to so many millions of people in this area. Ironically, the weekend he died, I was in Los Angeles. I will be, this Sunday, at the same hotel where I was six years ago. Kismet.

This time, I'm on a college tour with my son. And because of that, I'll be off next week. This column will resume a week from Monday.

See you at 11.


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