When covering a murder case, the truth should not be the second victim
What’s the difference between a punching bag and a journalist? A punching bag doesn’t feel pain.
I’m still reeling from the unfair criticism that I was obliged to endure as a journalist. But it went along with the territory and I can accept that.
Like the night a city council member criticized me during a council meeting for not doing my homework. This was at a time when council members and other city officials spent every waking moment looking for ways to hide the textbooks, so to speak.
But that’s not what this rant is about. This rant is about unfair criticism posted last night on Facebook about a murder case we covered three years ago. (Yes, I realize that anything posted on Facebook should be taken with a grain of salt. But, now that I’m retired and don’t have to take this crap lying down, I feel obligated to respond.)
The Facebook post praised our competitor, an out-of-town newspaper prone to sensationalism, while taking us to task for not providing coverage supportive of the victim’s family. Mind you, I take a lot of responsibility for the coverage because I was the criminal justice reporter at the time and my input carried weight in how the story was played.
The truth is we were very supportive of the victim’s family because we made it a point not to be pushy. I gave them opportunities to comment, they declined and I left them alone with an open invitation to contact me anytime.
Yes, we got beat up by the competition and big-city TV stations on that count. I’ll take that ass-whipping any day. Sometimes it’s better not to pursue a story. Or to wait until the time is right.
Eventually, I did connect with family members and we had a touching and insightful interview. After the interview, I returned to my desk and wrote the story with tears welling in my eyes. The story speaks for itself.*
That said, my paper thoroughly covered — complete with previews — all efforts to memorialize the victim and raise funds for her family.
I’m also proud to say that, while police were searching for the perpetrator, my paper didn’t jump into the fray, recklessly reporting false leads. That includes a Columbus woman’s dubious claim that she saw the perpetrator and his car in the parking lot of her apartment complex. Police information released after the murderer was taken into custody indicated that, at the time in question, his car had been located in southwest Michigan. It had been there at least three weeks without being moved.
I’m also proud to say that, during a custody hearing connected to the case, we were not a part of the media frenzy incorrectly reporting that the perpetrator’s family had filed for custody of a child he and the victim had together. That was not the case. The motion they filed was clearly procedural and meant to protect their right to be included as participants in the case.◊
Few of the media outlets involved in this blatant act of sensationalism ever acknowledged the truth, made corrections or offered clarifications.
Our coverage speaks for itself. If you have a subscription to the Ashland Times-Gazette, all you need do is enter names from the case in the search box. You’ll find plenty of reliable information there.