Written by Ron Walton
Friday's editorial in the Roanoke Times made me sick to my stomach. The editorial was another classic case of someone having a mistaken idea of what is important in the minds of their readers and what is important to the people of a community. (link)
As it turns out, the author isn't upset with me over recent Times columns on gay marriage (although I did receive a good bit of email that reeked of invective) or Rick Boucher. He's upset over a Times editorial demanding more openness on the part of government officials with regard to the ongoing investigation and the details of the sensational story in Blacksburg having to do with the killings of a Montgomery County sheriff's deputy and a hospital security guard.
A topic that is somewhat related came up at the Martinsville bloggers conference last week. I was asked by Barnie Day, Saturday morning moderator, the following question (in so many words):
As a blogger, would you ever divulge the name of a rape victim on your blog?
I assumed that he was going to ask about our accepted practice of protecting the name of an alleged rape victim while at the same time freely identifying accused rapists. I answered - more or less - that I couldn't imagine a circumstance under which I would ever do such a thing but I didn't completely rule the possibility out.
I then addressed the related subject by saying that I have always felt uncomfortable about the fact that - again in so many words - the authorities and the press are so open about information relating to accused individuals who have been convicted of nothing, individuals who subsequently find themselves often being tried, found guilty, and sentenced by the media before a trial ever takes place (or as in the case of Karl Rove and the Valerie Plame affair, a trial never takes place). We have even created a term for the collusion between the press and law enforcement with regard to the video coverage of high-profile arrestees. We call it the perp walk.
In this case, we all know Marvo is a murderer. Right? How do we know it?
I can't help but think of former Secretary of Labor Ray Donovan's question after he had been savaged in the press but was found not guilty of bribery and other charges in a court of law: "So where do I go to get my reputation back?"
The authorities have an obligation to keep details of investigations and arrests out of the press for the simple reason that those who are under investigation or who have been arrested are individuals who are innocent until proven guilty.
The conference quickly moved on to a different subject but this would have been a fascinating topic to have spent time on, had we had more time.
I think a person accused but not convicted has a right to privacy, just as I understand and accept the fact that the press has a need to garner as much detail about him or her as they can acquire. That is as it should be.
What the government, in this case the law enforcement branch, has an obligation to do - rather than call the media and schedule a perp walk for viewing on the 5 o'clock news - is to shield the accused - and the victim - and protect his privacy from the prying eyes of the press.
Let the Times squawk about our right to know. Until a cop killer is convicted, we have an obligation to not know.