Was Withholding Name Good Journalism?


March 10, 1991|By Edward H. Shur

Each and every day, editors make decisions about what stories and photographs to publish, what the content should be and where they should go in the newspaper.

Many decisions are straightforward: the commissioners cut expenses to cover a $5 million-plus deficit, a vo-techstudent wins an award, a sports team wins championship, a countian is honored for years of volunteer service, etc.

Others are more difficult: coverage of fatal accidents, how much detail to include on a graphic sex-abuse trial, choosing between two stories to cover when only one reporter is available, and the like.

One such difficult decision came the other week, in reporting on a flier that named a county bureau chief as a nominee for office in theKKK.

The question: Should we publish the name of the county bureau chief, which was on the flier?

In making a decision, we weighed these facts:

* "A smut campaign is what it is," said a state police spokesman. "More than likely this was revenge motivated. We're satisfied that the literature is bogus in nature."

* The county attorney, who's known the man for more than 10 years, also said he "found no evidence" of Klan involvement and agreed the flier distribution was"a tawdry event" aimed at discrediting the official.

* Because the man's position involves hiring and firing of department personnel, the clear indication was that the flier likely was the action of a disgruntled former county employee.

* The area's KKK grand dragon said his group did not produce the hand-delivered fliers.

In general, we do not like leaving holes in stories, which would happen if we left the name out. Also, the name already was known to those who read the flier.

On the other hand, nothing turned up to substantiate a link between the official and the Klan or its activities. Publishing the man's name would have embarrassed him and his family and repeatedapparently fallacious accusations.

So, bottom line was which was more important: The public's right to know the official's name or thereputation of the man and his family?

Since all parties agreed the accusations were false, we decided not to print his name. Did we make the right decision?

Please let us know: Letters to the editor, The Carroll County Sun, 15 E. Main St., Westminster, Md. 21157-5052.

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