On Our Own Hind Legs

August 17, 1991

Judge William O. Carr of the Harford County Circuit Court is a former newspaper boy and a member of Sons of the American Revolution. So he surely must know that this year, on Dec. 15, the nation will observe the bicentennial of the Bill of Rights, which includes the First Amendment, assuring freedom of the press.

Therefore, it is curious to read what the judge had to say about newspapers in reversing his earlier ruling that sealed certain court papers for one year and three weeks from the scrutiny of the press and the public. He executed his reversal only after the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ordered him, in effect, to stop stalling. Harford citizens, after all, have a right to know the facts in the Bo Peep Nursery child abuse case, which has been the subject of incessant conjecture.

Here's what ex-paperboy Carr had to say:

"Despite their reliance on high sounding constitutional principles. . all newspapers and other media are businesses which exist to sell advertising to make money. . .

"The present case has elements of sex, scandal and public controversy, all of which make it the type of story on which the media dotes usually to the detriment of other matters which require more intelligent presentation and careful thought.

"When presented with such a story, expecting members of the media to exercise taste, intelligence, good judgment and discretion is like expecting a dog to walk on its hind legs. Even if it is done, it will not be done very well for very long."

That's what he had to say in the middle of his opinion. Yet he concluded his remarks by saying "No evidence has been presented that any party involved, including the media, has made harmful remarks about the pending civil case." [Italics ours.] Do we detect a slight contradiction here?

Two centuries ago, James Madison, the father of the Constitution, had a pertinent comment that Judge Carr might find instructive: "A people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both."

This old dog of a newspaper would like to get up on our hind legs and proclaim we consistently try to exercise taste, intelligence, good judgment and discretion in the pursuit of popular information and in securing the constitutional means for acquiring it. Sometimes we fail. But we stand on a record of doing very well for 154 years, which happens to be a very long time.

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