Accuracy in Media

Early this week, the Taunton Daily Gazette in Massachusetts broke the story of a second-grader who reportedly was sent home from school and ordered to undergo psychological counseling for depicting Jesus on the cross as part of an open-ended class assignment. Ed Morrissey, Michelle Malkin and other conservative blogs helped spread the word, creating a public-relations nightmare for the school.

The school district, which failed to cooperate with the journalists reporting the news, didn’t like the bad press and whined to The Boston Globe about the Taunton paper’s coverage. That paper’s publisher struck back in an editorial today, taking the school to task both for being close-lipped and for expecting the newspaper to give school officials time to figure out how to manage the crisis:

The Taunton Daily Gazette, as any credible newspaper should, interviewed the father of the child and sought balance through inquiries with both the principal of the school and the district’s superintendent.  While the child’s father was candid and forthcoming in his participation in the interview process, the school district was not.

The principal deferred all inquiries to the school superintendent as a matter of policy. The superintendent subsequently provided no details or background on the specific incident, citing confidentiality responsibilities in accordance with school policy. She additionally provided handbook-style responses related to proper protocol being followed by the school district and its employees. All dutifully recorded by our reporter. …

Neither the superintendent, nor any other administration official, has as of this writing, contacted this newspaper related to charges of  inaccuracies or libelous reporting.  Instead, the administration has chosen to address these issues through The Boston Globe. While this is certainly the superintendent’s right, her candor with the Globe in describing the issues related to this incident not only stand in contradiction to her previous position regarding confidentiality of the student, but they appear to represent an attempt to undermine the credibility of  the Taunton Daily Gazette through The Boston Globe. …

[I]t is not the newspaper’s role to provide adequate time for public officials to organize and manage their response to crisis. The news was breaking, and if indeed the two weeks between the incident and the news inquiry were not enough time to prepare a response, it is not the newspaper’s issue, but rather, the administration’s. I personally understand and empathize with the superintendent’s desire to call a timeout under the heat of scrutiny and inquiry, but the newspaper cannot, and will not, hold the news or serve as the pseudo public-relations arm of the school administration. Managing the news in this way would be a dereliction of our responsibilities.  We must report the news with or without the school district’s full cooperation.”

Kudos to publisher Sean Burke for taking that stand. His paper handled the story exactly as ethics demand. Reporters and editors gave both parties in the dispute an opportunity to explain what happened and why.

The story may well turn out to be something different than as told by the father, but if the facts from his perspective are wrong, the newspaper is not to blame for reporting them because it had no evidence to the contrary. By refusing to cooperate, school officials created suspicion, and they look even more suspicious now because apparently they still won’t talk to the local paper out of spite for past coverage.

How petty and childish — and they are the people responsible for educating Taunton’s children. Maybe they should run for the U.S. Senate instead.

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