Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Tim Leeds 

Editor's Note: Reporting the news isn't always pretty

 

February 9, 2018



The Havre Daily News is in the job of reporting news, reporting the facts, to its readers.

We don’t always like what we have to report, and sometimes we have to make judgement calls on what we print.

People don’t always agree with us.

We printed a story Monday about a candidate for the U.S. Senate — who has registered as a planned candidate with the Federal Election Commission and has attended several events as a candidate — causing a lockdown when he tried to pull some children from school, in violation of a custody ruling by the courts.

Complaints have flooded in that we reported who candidate William James Dean’s ex-wife is, which gives a pretty good idea who is the victim of an alleged sexual assault is — which why he said he was leaving town, to find a safe place for his relative far away from Havre while he fights a custody battle.

I made a major error and left out a sentence in the story, usually run with a story like that, which would have said,”Normally the Havre Daily News would not include information that could identify the alleged victim of a sexual assault, but the minor’s mother agreed to be interviewed.”

After Dean came into the Havre Daily News Friday and in an interview dropped the bombshell that he was leaving Havre because he believed a relative was sexually assaulted and he was trying to find a safe place for that relative, the Havre Daily News offered his ex-wife a chance to be interviewed and respond to his accusations.

To my surprise, she agreed. Usually in a case like that, people decline to be interviewed.

Speaking through her attorney, she commented on Dean’s accusations and actions.

So I decided to run the article including her comments.

Then, I was dumbfounded when she contacted the Havre Daily News to say she didn’t expect the comments from the interview to be used in an article.

I gave her my sympathy — and apologies — over her misunderstanding the purpose of the interview. I realize that she does not deal regularly with newspaper and may have misunderstood the purpose. In acknowledgement of that, I, rightly or wrongly, pulled the comments from the online version of the story.

Too late for the print edition.

I understand, and sympathize with her, that she wants to keep her family and custody battle out of Dean’s race for the Senate, but she did not say that during the interview.

As to the article itself, the Havre Daily News editorial board believed — and still believes — that the story needed to be reported.

When a person who says they are running for the U.S. Senate — regardless of how likely they are to win — and who has appeared at local fundraisers and spoken as a candidate at events says they are leaving town to find a safe place for a victim of sexual assault — regardless of how believable the allegations are — and that he will bring up the allegations again in court, that is news. Our readers deserve to know what he said and what the background is.

Speculating on what article would have come out if his ex-wife had not given the interview is pointless — she did give the interview and did not tell the Havre Daily not to use it until after the article was written. Again, I am sorry she did not realize that was why she was being interviewed. I believe the offer to interview her and let her respond to his accusations for an article was pretty clear.

To say the paper was sensationalizing the story or seeking scandal is ridiculous. The story is sensational and scandalous, no need to add anything.

To say it was tasteless is possibly right, but what we have to report on is not always tasteful. That does not mean we should not report it.

Saying we should only report on his campaign misses the point. Dean linked the issue to his campaign when he was interviewed by the Havre Daily last Friday.

Saying we wrote the story to sell more papers is blatantly incorrect. We knew about Dean’s accusations for some time before he gave the interview, and prior to his interview decided not to run a story in interest of the privacy of his ex-wife’s family, as we would have with any person making those accusations — until he talked about it as a Senate candidate on the record, linking it to his campaign.

That was when we contacted his ex-wife and offered her the chance to respond.

Our job is to report the news, print the facts. People don’t always like it.

That doesn’t mean it is wrong.

 

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