The banner on the front page of today’s Miami Herald reads: “Murder trial of bail bondsman forges ahead with no body”. It’s a lurid, well written local crime story involving a missing-body murder case, stolen money, a victim who worked as an escort and a married suspect. There is only one problem with the sensational headline. The accused murderer is not a bail bondsman. He’s never been a bail bondsman. He evidently once worked as a handyman for bail bond agent.
The online version of the Herald has an equally incorrect headline: “Married bail bondsman is on trial for murder of his lover in 2013”
When I was a kid I had a paper route. Imagine this headline: “Newspaper publisher steals case of beer from neighbor’s unlocked garage.” (Note that I am not admitting anything here — just illustrating a point.)
I asked the reporter and he admitted that the headline is wrong but defended his story — which states only that the suspect once worked for a bail bond agent. The reporter joked, ”I guess the editors didn’t read the paper!”
These factually incorrect headlines make me think. After all, the Herald editors could have easily gone with any of the following alternative but accurate headlines:
“Murder trial of married handyman forges ahead with no body”
“Married handyman is on trial for murder of his lover in 2013”
“Married bail bondsman is on trial for murder of his lover in 2013”
“Murder trial of convicted drug trafficker forges ahead with no body”
“Murder trial of previous murder suspect forges ahead with no body”
Why did they use the factually incorrect bail bondsman description instead? My uncomfortable theory is that to the headline editors, it fits. My guess is they have no difficulty associating sleazy behavior with bail bondsman. So when they saw a story about murder, theft, drug trafficking and infidelity and then noticed the (ought-to-be irrelevant) fact that the suspect once worked for a bail bondsman, BINGO: sensational headline!
We can bemoan the fact that we are often portrayed unfairly in the media. We can also take action where appropriate in order to set the record straight. (I did write to the reporter to let him know the headlines for his story are untrue.)
But I think we have more than an image problem. I think all-too-often, we have a behavior problem. Florida does not allow convicted felons to become licensed or to work in the bail bond business in any capacity whatsoever. We bail agents should work together to see to it that other states follow suit.
As bondsman, we do a very good job of ensuring that accused criminals appear for their trial. We are good at what we do, and no government program or alternative method of pretrial release performs better. That said, we do a poor job of communicating what we do the stake holders in the criminal justice system.
If we are sometimes unable to tell the difference between ourselves and our clients, whose fault is that? This is not simply a media problem; this is our profession’s problem.
If we want to be treated as professionals, we need to do a better job of dressing, talking and behaving like professionals. The guy hocking electronic bracelets to the sheriff and county commissioner is wearing a suit and tie. He may be selling a figment of everyone’s imagination, but he looks and sounds impressive while doing it. How are we looking? Isn’t our image problem all-too-often a reflection of our behavior problem?
I welcome your (constructive) thoughts.