To Publish or Not to Publish

27 Apr

For this week’s blog post on ethical dilemmas in journalism I spoke with someone who was confronted with one and dealt with it firsthand. This individual was in a position that made his decision carry great weight for his career and company. His decision could have a good outcome or result in consequences of epic proportions, especially in the case of one journalist working on the story at the time. More on that later, however. Tom Stewart, current professor of media law and ethics at West Virginia University, was the editor of the Tribune Review when all of this went down.

The whole thing started as a regular old court story that involved a prominent figure of the community, Susanne Teslovich, the Fayette County Commissioner in Pennsylvania. The commissioner was on trial for operating and heading a prostitution ring in the county, which she kept a black book of addresses for. That, along with other forms of evidence, led to her conviction and eventually being found guilty in a court of law.

What threw this trial into a tumult was what was redacted from the little black book that she supposedly used for her clients. Out of hundreds of names in the book, Judge Gerald R. Solomon ordered only two be redacted and shielded from public review. Their names would then be subsequently blacked out on all documents made public in the Teslovich case. When speaking with Stewart about this dilemma, I wondered to myself who these two people possibly could be.

The Tribune Review eventually found out who the two redacted names belonged to, but did not want to go public at the moment in fear that it could affect the still ongoing case. Instead, they appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court with the belief that the actions taken by the judge, “are offensive to the First Amendment and the public’s right to know”. It was inherently unfair to black out two names while releasing more than 100 others.

The Tribune Review came across the two names by talking to undisclosed sources and acquiring them. Referred to in the case as John Doe Number One and John Doe Number Two, two physicians from Uniontown, Pa., were the missing names. Dr. Charles Robert Calabrese Jr., 43, and his partner, Dr. Frederick William Ruthardt, 44, are the two names the Tribune Review had ready to publish as soon as possible.

So what Stewart ultimately did was go ahead and publish all the names in the black book online. Stewart decided to take precautions by stating that no conclusions could be drawn from the appearance of any name on the phone log.

“As we said when the phone log was first released and we printed it, the calls logged could be the result of misdials or other perfectly innocent communications. The names listed apparently were what showed up on Caller ID, so they’re not necessarily the name of the person who placed the call,” Stewart was quoted saying in an article by the Tribune Review.

Stewart was risking his newspaper’s reputation and possibly a world of headache by jumping the gun and publishing this list of names. Everything ended up fine though, as nothing severe resulted from it. I feel like I would have done the same thing if I was in Stewart’s shoes. The public needs to know information like this, and why redact two names when the rest of the log is going to be made public? Sure, the two physicians’ reputations were at risk, but they chose to partake in the crime in the first place. By taking part in this, they should have known that they ran the risk of having their names come out. I have one question that I did not get answered during my interview with Stewart because I did not think of it at the time. Why did the judge redact only their names? Conflicts of interest? Who knows.

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