Wednesday, February 22, 2006
The most common request I get as editor is to withhold names from the arrest report published every Sunday in the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Most frequently, those who call have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. People arrested and charged with other crimes also call.
I never have accommodated such requests.
The arrest report is a compilation of the names, ages and charges of everyone arrested in Routt County. Withholding one name is not fair to those whose names are printed.
The names of those arrested are a matter of public record, and arrest reports are of public interest. I have no doubt that some readers' interest in the arrest report is purely prurient. And I have no doubt that newspaper readers are smart enough to understand the difference between being arrested and being convicted.
It should be noted that, more often than not, people are not convicted of the charges cited in their arrest warrants. DUI becomes reckless driving, and attempted murder becomes assault in plea agreements. Felonies are reduced to misdemeanors, and multiple charges are whittled down to a single charge. Sometimes -- more often than people realize -- those arrested are innocent of wrongdoing.
That's our judicial system. The newspaper's job in that system is to report on crime from start to finish -- from the arrest to a case's disposal. As part of that job, our reporters are required to make an earnest effort to get the accused's side of the story any time we choose to write articles about crime.
Of course, there's a wrinkle -- one that many longtime readers probably have seized upon before now. Here goes: In general, this newspaper does not publish the names of those arrested on sex charges until they have been convicted.
Of the five newspapers I have worked for, this is the only one that takes this approach. Why do we do it? Because the stigma attached with sex crimes is so great that a dismissal of charges or a not guilty verdict often are inadequate in changing public perception in such cases.
That said, we have made exceptions in particularly high-profile cases, when withholding the name accomplishes no purpose -- the Kobe Bryant case is such an example.
And there are other times when we withhold names even after conviction of a sex crime. In general, this is done when identifying the convicted would identify a sex-crime victim who should remain anonymous, such as a child.
In sex-crime cases, protecting victims is our first consideration. Since I have been editor, there have been several instances in which -- on the same day -- we named a sex-crime suspect in one story and withheld the name of someone convicted of a sex crime in another.
I would like to think we have made the right choice in all such cases. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. But what I can say with confidence is that in every case I have been involved in, we strived for fairness and to ensure that victims are not victimized again.
From the Editor ap-pears Thursdays in the Steamboat Today. Send questions to Scott Stanford at email@example.com or call him at 871-4221.