A story this week by True contributor Jennifer Weiner struck me the wrong way, so I sent it back for a rewrite. I thought you might find the original story intriguing, as well as her reaction to my rewrite request.
Let’s start with the original she submitted — verbatim (minus one typo I found):
Matt the Ratt
The kids of an Ipswich, Australia family are in a heap of trouble. Their father stated that he caught his 17-year-old son, and his daughter, 15, bashing a 13-year-old boy so badly that they broke his jaw. Matt grabbed the victim, took him home to his parents, then took his two children to the police station and turned them in for the crime. He also sold his son’s car and his daughter’s horse as punishment. He said he was so enraged because he had been a victim of similar attacks when he was younger, and had suffered long-lasting consequences. The two children have now been charged with assault. A police spokesman said that Matt relayed the story as part of the area’s “Anti-bullying awareness week”. According to Matt, he was once bullied for the same reason as this victim: wearing eyeglasses. He claimed he would avoid wearing his glasses just to prevent the bullying, which eventually did permanent harm to his eyesight. Matt said he will support any charges pressed by the victim’s parents. The two children are reportedly remorseful and hope the money from the sale of the horse and car will go to the victim. (JW/Sydney Morning Herald) …I wonder why contact lens sales have skyrocketed in the last few weeks.
Try It Again
I didn’t really like the “Matt the Ratt” slug — it dissed the father without backing up the dis in the story (or tagline). And I thought the tagline was based on story details that were only added to support the tagline; the “why” of him being bullied as a child wasn’t really relevant to the point.
Jennifer responded with a bit of a rant (which is fine with me — I do it plenty!):
Let me at least tell you where my mind was coming from on the original:
I thought the father was a pri*k. You don’t turn in your own family members to the cops — they will be convicted felons for the rest of their lives and they are only teenagers. This same kind of beatdown apparently occurred once before. He should have done somethign THEN to make it so they would rather die than to ever try such a thing again. He didn’t.
I cannot even endure the thought of that kind of bullying, but if it happens, there’s more likely to be a psychological component, not so much a criminal tendency (IMHO).
He should have handled it at home. Yes, sell the horse, the dog, the car, the whatever. Ground them for months. But isn’t there some kind of a little ‘rule’ that says, you DON’T have your kids arrested (unless we’re talking about, like, MURDER). These kids need to go through a CLOCKWORK ORANGE brainwash, not prison for some of the most important years of their lives. They can NEVER undo the conviction, the criminal record, etc. It’s a HORRIBLE thing to do to your own kids. They could have made their kids’ lives a living HELL at home, but at least they wouldn’t have to be judged and discriminated against for the rest of their poor lives. That’s where that angle came from.
I am going to guess why [you didn’t like the tag]: it fails to make an effective statement about the seriousness of the topic, and therefore it wastes an opportunity to do that.
Right — and to make it work, too much irrelevant detail had to be added to the story. You can definitely take that angle if you want, but make it more clear; USE THE OPPORTUNITY to make your point known. That’s really hard to do in such limited space, but the payoff can be enormous.
She actually didn’t go there, though. Here’s where the story ended up:
Guaranteeing a Lesson Is Learned
The kids of an Ipswich, Qld., Australia, family are in a heap of trouble. Their father says he caught his 17-year-old son and his 15-year-old daughter bashing a 13-year-old boy so badly that they broke his jaw. The man, identified only as “Matt”, took the victim home to his parents, then took his two children to the police station and turned them in for the crime; they were charged with assault. Matt said he will support any charges pressed by the victim’s parents. He also sold his son’s car and his daughter’s horse as punishment. Matt said he was enraged because he had been a victim of similar attacks when he was younger. A police spokesman said his timing is good: it was “Anti-bullying awareness week”. The two children are reportedly remorseful, and hope the money from the sale of the horse and car will go to the victim. (JW/Sydney Morning Herald) …I guess “anti-bullying awareness week” worked.
I told Jennifer I’d put both versions in my blog, and let the readers “duke it out” in the comments. After all, the kids did commit a crime — a serious assault. What do you think: was the father right, or wrong? Bullying is a real problem in schools; is this one good way to handle it? Why or why not?
Or, to put it another way: if you had a brief sentence to send a funny, ironic, or thought-provoking message to “Matt”, what would it be?
But please read the comments first to make sure someone else hasn’t already said it.
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