Matthew Cordle makes his confession in a video posted on YouTube.
Editor’s note: After publication of this column, RedEye learned that the author, Andrea Garcia-Vargas, attended high school with Matthew Cordle. Had RedEye known this fact, it would have been noted in the column.
We've all seen public confessions. Anthony Weiner. Ryan Braun. Bill Clinton. Lance Armstrong. Alex Rodriguez. Eliot Spitzer. But these famous people generally made the confessions because someone had already dug their skeletons out of the closet. Confessing was the only way to save face.
Matthew Cordle is no politician. He's no celebrity, no baseball star. Before Sept. 3, it's fair to say he was a nobody.
Then the nonprofit Because I Said I Would, upon his request, published a video in which Cordle confesses to being drunk when he caused an accident that left a man dead and accepts "full responsibility" for what he did.
The video is more than a confession, though. Cordle spends the first minute and 40 seconds of the video with his face blurred and his voice scrambled over eerie background music. As 1:40 comes around, soft, gospel-like music plays as he reveals his face.
"My name is Matthew Cordle. And on June 22, 2013, I hit and killed Vincent Canzani. This video will act as my confession. When I get charged, I'll plead guilty and take full responsibility for everything I've done to Vincent and his family."
Cordle finishes the video with a plea to his viewers: Don't drink and drive. But do we buy it?
At first glance, Cordle did put his freedom on the line by posting the video. At the time, he had not been charged in Canzani's death. He since has been charged and on Wednesday is expected to officially enter a guilty plea.
He says he could've gotten off as innocent if he had lied—and chose the hard way out by coming clean.
Should we feel for this man? Should we take his remorse at his word because he made a public confession, a confession that led to negative consequences?
Maybe not. A county prosecutor told the New York Daily News that evidence was mounting against Cordle before he released the video. And as Cordle reveals in the video, he consulted with attorneys almost immediately after he killed Canzani. That means he spent more than two months hiding his guilt. And he could've spent those two months cooking up a plan.
A statement by Cordle's attorney, Martin Midian, clues us in: "A heavy-handed sentence could send the wrong message that accepting responsibility is the wrong thing to do."
Clearly, Midian is using Cordle's public confession to manipulate public opinion about what sentence he deserves.
The problem is Cordle's video is so stylized and overdramatic, I just don't buy it—and neither do the commenters on YouTube.
Cordle says this video is a PSA to drunk drivers, not PR. But if it were a PSA, it really backfired. The fade in, fade out, the background music, the camera hovering over a scar on Cordle's arm—the video comes with a purpose beyond confession. It's not genuine. It presents Cordle as a hero, a man courageous enough to own up to his mistakes, and the audience saw right through that.
So Cordle didn't give his audience what they wanted. What if he had filmed a raw video with less editing? What if he'd cried? What if he'd done exactly what his audience wanted him to do?
That confession would be just as manipulated as the one he has now. When do we know public confession is genuine? We don't. We'll never really know. Public confession is no longer that meaningful any more. Honesty has become another form of deception.
Andrea Garcia-Vargas is a Chicago Tribune editorial board intern.
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.