By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC
The other day, I posted a critique of a commentary published in the New York Times by a condemned prisoner from Oregon who says he wants to donate his organs after execution. I realized that in his supposed “guilt,” he hadn’t bothered to mention the names of his killed family. So, I decided to add a post script giving that information. What I found out about Christian Longo’s history after the murders, boggled my mind that he would be touted in the NYT. I wrote a post on it and sent it over to NRO, which published it.
First, how I came to write the commentary. From my The Corner post:
I was irritated with myself the other day for something I didn’t do. I wrote a short post on my blog about a condemned murderer named Christian Longo, who wrote a column in Sunday’s New York Times asking to donate his organs after his execution. Longo didn’t mention the names of his dead wife and children in his piece, and I hadn’t either. My wife, syndicated columnist Debra J. Saunders, strongly advocates that whenever the fate of a convicted murderer is discussed in the media, the names of his or her victims should be included so they don’t become abstract and dehumanized. For the record: They were MaryJane, 34, Zachery, 4, Sadie, 3, and Madison, 2. Longo strangled MaryJane and Madison, stuffed their bodies in suitcases, and threw them in a bay. Then he drove Zachery and Sadie to a nearby bridge, tied rocks to their legs, and tossed them into water to drown.
But Longo wasn’t just a vicious murderer, but a con man of the first order:
While south of the border, Longo assumed the identity of a New York Times reporter named Michael Finkel, who was fired for misconduct at the very time his identity was being used by the murderer. From Finkel’s story on his relationship with Longo, published in the December 2009 Esquire:
Christian Longo entered my life at a moment of extreme weakness for me. At the same time I learned that Longo had become Michael Finkel of The New York Times — I mean the exact day — I was officially no longer Michael Finkel of The New York Times. I’d been fired by the paper because I fabricated an article I wrote about child labor in West Africa, combining quotations from several individual laborers into one fictitious composite character. A local aid agency uncovered my lie, and after it was reported to my editors, my career there was finished. At this instant of panic and vulnerability and shame, along came Longo.
Finkel became obsessed with Longo, exchanging “more than a thousand handwritten letters,” with Longo, who convinced Finkel he was innocent. That was a lie. After Longo was caught and convicted, Finkel used Longo to help his own career, writing the 2006 book he mentioned above and promoting himself on the television program 48 Hours in 2005, telling the interviewer at the time that he was “disgusted” by Longo’s pretense of innocence.
And yet . . . When Longo decided to promote organ donation from executed prisoners, Finkel jumped back in:
Meanwhile, Longo continued his sociopathological ways on death row. In the Esquire piece, Finkel reports that Longo made money by writing explicit sex letters to gay men, who paid him for the raw prose (these people are known in prison parlance as “ATMs”). And despite Finkel’s “disgust,” Longo soon induced the journalist to help him promote organ donation after executions.
But Longo double-crossed his Boswell. According to Finkel, Longo became so caught up with the organ-donation project, he decided he wanted to live! Finkel — who, we should recall, had used Longo to help his own faltering career — suddenly felt used:
Longo works on the project every day, from breakfast (served at 5:00 A.M.) to midnight, with notes left on his desk reminding him where to start in the morning. “Yard was cancelled today & I’m actually grateful for the extra 90 minutes,” he wrote in one letter. I have never, in all the years I’ve known him, seen him so driven, so excited about something.
And yes: so happy. He has a mission, a focus, a purpose. In a way, the project has transported him beyond the prison walls. He decided not to drop his appeals after all; rather he’s aggressively pursuing them full force, likely putting off his execution date by at least a decade. He needs the time, he says, to work on GAVE. He wants to live. It’s odd. He was the one person on earth I wanted to die, and instead I’ve helped to save his [expletive] life.
Why was Finkel surprised? Has he never heard the fable of the frog and the scorpion? And now, 15 months later, Longo continues his self-promotion in the rarefied air of the New York Times, although he now claims to have given up his appeal.
What a sordid mess. Let’s recap: The New York Times gave a coveted “Week in Review” slot to a man who viciously murdered his wife and three small children, then fled to Mexico to live the high life, where he pretended to be a writer for the New York Times. While on death row, Longo made money writing explicit letters to fetishists and then made a deal with the man whose identity he borrowed to tell the full truth about the murders in return for the writer’s pushing the organ-donation idea, which the killer himself then promoted in the New York Times.
I found all of this in less than 90 seconds just looking for the names of Longo’s murdered family. And that raises very important questions for the NYT. Did they know about this history? If not, why not? If they did, why did they publish a clear con man’s piece, or at least inform readers of the history so we could better judge Longo’s credibility and motives.
The NYT’s editors sometimes look down their noses at other media. This episode demonstrates they have nothing to look down their noses about.
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