One job of reporters is to go to the police, go to the courts, and find out who has been arrested or charged with what. It is not a popular task. The police logs are probably what generate more complaints than anything else we do. All the time we get requests from people who get arrested and charged and then don’t want their name to show up.
“Can you just leave me out?” they ask. The answer is invariably no.
But then there are the exceptions. The child of a school board member showed up in the log, which prompted me to call the cops and ask what happened.
Clerical error, it turns out: the kid had several speeding tickets, and the state had considered revoking his license but didn’t. He got arrested erroneously for operating after suspension. If it hadn’t been for my call his name would have appeared, but because he was the child of an elected official I had to double check.
Then this week one of our reporters got arrested. He’s a diabetic, and he got pulled over late at night and arrested for driving while intoxicated. He got back to the station and took a breathalyzer test, which he passed at 0.00. The police called me to let me know there were no charges, so his name also will not appear.
It’s fair, and its unfair, and there isn’t any way to get around it. The paper has no interest in printing the names of people who are arrested erroneously and not charged. The police log isn’t about embarrassing people. It is actually about holding the police accountable — if no one asks who they arrest they can do so with impunity. The individuals who are named are in some ways just a byproduct.
But if it isn’t the son of a public official or one of our reporters we would never think twice about printing the name of someone arrested. It’s only when we check back to get the details of the story that these people are offered this extra layer of protection. If your arrest isn’t a story the log goes in the paper without question. Granted, there have not been a flood of phone calls about erroneous reports, but still, two is enough to make me wonder.
The newspaper may be printed in black and white, but all through it are shades of grey. Readers would do as well remembering that as the reporters who create it. There’s no such thing a perfect fairness.