April 23, 2014

Medina
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Remembering all of a public figure’s record

Editors often get complaints from readers wanting to know why a story they’d heard about wasn’t in the newspaper.

Usually the answer is simple: We checked out the rumor and found it wasn’t true.

David Knox

More interesting are the complaints from folks who see something in a story they think doesn’t belong.

Several readers objected to The Gazette’s story about the death of former Medina Mayor Jim Roberts, who served three terms, from 1990 to 2001.

Ten paragraphs into what was otherwise a laudatory eulogy, the story reported that Roberts’ last term was “marred by scandals” — a paternity suit involving a former secretary and a misdemeanor conviction for having a city worker install shelves at a home the mayor owned.

“What began as a deserved tribute to a fine public servant turned into a slam that was not needed when announcing his death,” a reader wrote in an email. “Jim Roberts’ poor judgment some twenty years ago detracted from his many accomplishments.”

Another reader also thought “it was extremely tacky and unprofessional to air Mayor Roberts’ dirty laundry in an article on the front page of the Gazette when reporting his death. Everyone has skeletons in their closets and would prefer not to have them mentioned … when reporting their death.”

A quick answer to the two readers would be that I’m pretty certain that if the negative aspects of Roberts’ career were left out of the story, I’d have gotten many more complaints from readers — this time crying cover-up.

But that’s not a good reason for doing what we did.

A better explanation is the one the reporter, Kiera Manion-Fischer, gave in response to the first reader’s email: “We felt it was important to mention the blemishes in Mayor Roberts’ career as well as his accomplishments. We would do the same for the death of any public figure.”

That last sentence is the proper answer: Leaving out the bad from Robert’s story would be a journalistic sin because it would create a double standard in the way public figures are treated.

How many Gazette readers thought it wrong that stories about Richard Nixon’s death in 1994 included the Watergate scandal and that he was the only president to resign?

And when Bill Clinton’s time comes, I guarantee that we’ll all be reading about Monica again and the fact that he was only the second president to be impeached.

What justification is there for treating national figures by one standard and local public figures by another?

Nixon, Clinton and Roberts were all elected to office to represent us.

Treating Roberts differently in death would be the real disservice to his memory.

David Knox is the managing editor of The Gazette. He can be reached at (330) 721-4065 or dknox@medina-gazette.com.