The Morning File: Public shaming for idiotic behavior? A boon for poster-board industry

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We really like how Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Pinkey Carr handles her job, and not just because it's so much fun to say "Pinkey perhaps sends perjuring prostitutes to the pokey" three times fast.

When a 32-year-old woman was cited for driving on the sidewalk to go around a stopped school bus, Judge Carr felt some non-traditional punishment was needed, as offender Shena Hardin was known to have repeatedly performed the stunt-driving, delay-avoiding maneuver. Yes, the judge suspended Ms. Hardin's license for 30 days and ordered her to pay $250 in court costs. But she also directed that Ms. Hardin should spend an hour prominently standing at a Cleveland intersection on two successive days bearing a sign reading, "Only an idiot would drive on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus."

Ms. Hardin carried out the sentence last week, drawing much media scrutiny since the Cleveland media doesn't need to spend all of its time fixating on the local professional football team like the fifth estate does in Pittsburgh. Because she was smoking cigarettes and texting on her cellphone and wearing headphones on her first day, Ms. Hardin, a mother of a schoolchild herself, took some criticism not just for being an idiot, but one insufficiently remorseful for her idiocy.

Some people, on the other hand, thought Judge Carr went too far with her shaming attempt. A local radio personality showed up at the intersection to stand alongside Ms. Hardin in solidarity, on the basis that everyone does idiotic things sometimes. Archie Berwick taped a sign to his sweater saying, "If she's an idiot, then so am I!!"

There are multiple conclusions that can be drawn from this sentence (by that, we mean the punishment, not the words you're reading on this line -- idiot!) and story:

1. There are a lot of idiots in Cleveland.

2. One thing idiots do well is stand up for one another, since they feel, correctly, that everyone's against them.

3. If you're delayed by a school bus that's frequently stopping, you should probably just petition the school board to close down the school (probably an overlooked factor as the cause of so many closings in Pittsburgh).

Regardless, we can't help but think that if Pinkey Carr were chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, she'd lead the judiciary nationally to punish misdeeds constructively by similar public shaming from which everyone can learn. And once that trend was established, maybe people would just naturally confess their sins publicly to make a better apology, without needing a judge's order.

So before long, hopefully, we'll start seeing people in public holding signs like the following to identify their wrongdoing:

"Only an idiot would have an extramarital affair with a vengeful, jealous woman when he holds the most sensitive job in America's intelligence community."

"Only an imbecile would run for president by mocking 47 percent of the people he needs to have vote for him."

"Only a fool would hand out a $4 million baseball contract to an aging, clearly declining catcher who would go on to hit .206 and throw out 6 percent of base-stealers while receiving that salary."

"Only a nimrod would appear to be disinterested or asleep while on stage during a debate that could determine whether he will continue holding the most important position in the free world."

"Only a jerk would refuse to cooperate with other Pittsburgh health care institutions in striving to ensure affordable health care is available and accessible to the broadest possible group of consumers."

"Only a greedy nincompoop would make all kinds of new demands that end up costing America's hockey fans the pleasure of an exciting, competitive sport and season."

"Only a madman would deliberately make an inflammatory anti-Muslim film that raises the level of ire directed at America throughout the Arab world."

"Only a noxious boob would write a column depicting the idiocy of other people and pretend that he doesn't rise to their level."


Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.


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