Hells Angel Lectures on News Ethics
Just before his talk the other night, George Christie Jr. noted that he had given a speech only once before: when he testified at his solicitation-of-murder trial three years ago.
Christie, president of the Ventura chapter of the Hells Angels motorcycle club, was acquitted of soliciting the murder of a government informant. The not guilty verdict was due in part to his ability to persuade a jury to trust him and ignore preconceived notions about the motorcycle gang.
But Saturday night, Christie had the audience on his side even before he stepped to the microphone and addressed the Ventura College Press Club.
About 50 aspiring journalists and professors cheered him when he spoke about the power of the media and the need for morality in journalism. They laughed when he talked about his run-ins with the law. They nodded in agreement when he warned about the dangers of sloppy journalism.
“We are not the monsters that some people have created us to be,” he said of the Hells Angels. “Preconceived images are certainly a problem that I’ve had to deal with.”
Normally, the college invites an editor or reporter to speak at the annual awards banquet, said Linda Wolf, office manager of the college newspaper. But this year, staff members decided they wanted someone who had been on the receiving end of news reports.
“We wanted to hear about reality,” she said.
Christie has gotten both positive and negative coverage. The positive press came when he raised $3,000 from his fellow bikers and ran in the 1984 Olympic Torch Relay. The money was eventually directed to the Special Olympics in Pottstown, Pa.
But Christie got less favorable headlines in 1987, when he was indicted and later acquitted on charges of hiring a hit man to kill an Arizona prison inmate. Federal authorities later acknowledged that they had faked the inmate’s death to entrap Christie.
Wearing a black leather vest with the Hells Angels logo emblazoned across the back, Christie told his audience at the Doubletree Inn that the Angels had not made a conscious decision to improve their image. They did, however, want to be more accessible to journalists and the public, he said.
Christie has been interviewed for newspaper articles, by Mike Wallace for “60 Minutes” and by Regis Philbin for “Live With Regis and Kathie Lee.” He said he has turned down interviews with “tabloid” television shows, because, they tend to exploit misery.
Some journalists have portrayed him as an honest family man, the target of harassment by law enforcement officials, he said, while others painted him as an outlaw.
Above all, Christie advised the aspiring journalists to be honest with the subject of their news reports and to live by their own sense of morality. “If you can look yourself in the mirror in the morning,” he said, “you should be happy with yourself.”