Fake news or “yellow journalism” as it used to be called, is quite simply the making up of facts to sensationalize a story for the public’s consumption. Money and power are of course the cause, as it is for most evil in the world. What fascinates me is how quickly people accept lies as the truth. I’m not saying that mainstream journalism hasn’t had its share of problems, but the ethical journalists I know, have to jump through hoops of fire to prove their story is factual before it’s released to the public. Sometimes that means researching absurd claims people make just to disprove them. Because it’s not enough to say to yourself: “That’s bullshit.” No, you have to put your views aside and get the evidence that it’s bullshit.
As I weigh publishing options for the book about the murder of Col. Philip Shue, M.D., I’m surrounded by stacks of evidence never publicly released. And it’s humbling. In case you need insight, Col. Shue was falsely accused of suicide in 2003. He left for work one morning in Boerne, Texas and was later found when his car crashed into a cluster of trees. His body had duct tape around his wrists and ankles and an array of injuries (including missing nipples) that could not have been sustained as the result of a car wreck.
All these years later, and the case continues to fascinate people. However, in place of the real facts people often fill in the blanks with theories that have no basis in reality. Helped along by wildly sensational headlines such as “Duct-Taped Driver Commits Suicide” imaginations were fired and inaccuracies were cemented in the minds of those who take everything they read at face value.
At the end of the day, I know that no matter how many facts are presented in the book there will still be people who believe the early headlines and not bother to educate themselves on the issues involved. Even if they do, there’s so much mistrust in our country that even when looking at the truth square on, people may be hesitant to open their minds. Preferring instead to hang on to the safety they feel by following the masses. Grave injustice occurs because of this sheep-like mentality. It’s part of the reason we still have folks who believe Lee Harvey Oswald was the only person pointing a rifle at President John Kennedy on that fateful day in Texas, 1963. They do this in spite of evidence to the contrary from recognized experts such as Dr. Cyril Wecht. (who by the way, is not only one of the nation’s most sought after and experienced forensic pathologists –he’s also an attorney.)
The Shue case was fortunate to have a second autopsy performed by Dr. Wecht. But it almost didn’t happen. People associated with the investigation wanted to rush Col. Shue’s cremation, which would have destroyed any hope of a court of law ruling his death a homicide. Without Wecht, those screaming headlines would have gone unchallenged. Truths that revealed a botched investigation, lies, and corruption - would have been turned into ash.
As my research began, Col. Shue’s widow, Tracy, tried to prepare me for the odd theories she had had to endure. But some things you just have to experience to believe. Without getting into too much detail here, somebody accused Col. Shue of an elaborately staged event in which he tortured himself for hours, before plowing his car into trees and accidentally dying. Thus, ruining a ruse to get life insurance companies to drop a million dollars in policies his ex-wife was awarded in their divorce decree. According to this person, he only wanted to make it look like she tried to kill him.
When I asked this person why a man would go to the extreme of cutting off his own nipples, the harried response was baffling: “Well, did you know that severed nipples grow back in 30 percent of the cases?”
Um, no I had never heard of this phenomenon.
Nevertheless, it was on the table, which meant I had to research it. I went to many subject matter experts and read scientific journals before I concluded it was accurate to state no such possibility existed. Still, even though I had sufficient evidence to disprove the claim, I decided to hammer it one more time by talking with Dr. Wecht.
Dr. Wecht, who had included the forensics of the Shue case in his book From Crime Scene to Courtroom (coauthored with journalist Dawna Kaufmann) was a little saltier than expected. I liked him immediately. He is a tough man. Think about it; he was the only one with enough cojones to openly disagree with the Warren Commission’s results on the assassination of President Kennedy when it was first released. And to this day, he is probably the most sought after expert on the case.
I asked him why he decided to include Col. Shue’s forensic study in From Crime Scene to Courtroom. He said “Well, it’s a unique case, absolutely rare. I’ve seen cases where people committed suicide and tried to make it look like a homicide, and I’ve seen cases in which someone has been murdered, and the perpetrator tried to make it look like a suicide. There is no doubt in my mind that Col. Shue was murdered.”
As we talked, I finally worked up the nerve to ask him the question concerning severed nipples growing back. I have to say; it was embarrassing as hell to ask him. Once out, the question kind of hung in the air a moment before he somberly answered: “I’ve never heard of that. Ever.” Then, the lunacy of the theory seemed to sink in, and he let out an expletive to describe any “idiot” who would assert such a thing. Like I said, he’s salty. He’s real. And as he put it, he doesn’t “deal in alternative facts.”
Naturally, Wecht figures prominently in the book, so I set out to learn as much about his career as possible. What I found was a man who is genuinely passionate about the importance of his work and of telling the truth, no matter what obstacles are thrown in his path. Believe me when I say he's paid the price for his honesty. But it was during a recent speech he gave about the Kennedy assassination, that Dr. Wecht inadvertently solidified a long-held belief of mine that once government authorities in any particular case realize how badly they’ve screwed things up, instead of coming clean and righting the wrong, they’ll dig in their heels. Wecht summed up these situations beautifully:
If you’re Asian, you commit suicide. If you’re European, you resign, and you go into seclusion. And if you’re American, you just bullshit your way out of it.
In other words, pesky traits such as honor and integrity are not always on top of the list in the American government and judicial systems. (I hope you are not surprised.)
That’s what happened in the Shue case. The construction of a wall of bullshit began immediately. So, it was left up to Tracy, her attorney Jason Davis, experts such as Dr. Wecht, and now little ole me, to break it down.
And break it down, we will.
(If you’d like to listen to the audio version of this piece, please click here.)