Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Being As Much a Man -or Woman - As Peter

I stumbled across this interesting article in AlterNet which explains how powerful people who also happen to be pedophiles, manage to keep their orientation secret.

Mirror, Mirror: Journalism Takes a Look at Itself
By Rory O'Connor, AlterNet. Posted June 18, 2007.

When a small Idaho newspaper held a mirror up to their community and exposed rampant pedophilia, they paid a heavy price at first. But their courageous journalism eventually paid off.

The Post Register ran a six-day series about the affair. The first story featured a 14-year-old camper -- "the son of a Mormon seminary teacher and a cinch to become an Eagle Scout" -- who forced adult leaders to call the police about the pedophile.
Then the backlash began. Mormon church members were among the first to complain, characterizing the paper's coverage as an attack on their faith. "The drums banged, and we were flooded with calls and e-mails and letters to the editor from readers who told us that holding the Grand Teton Council accountable was Mormon-bashing," Miller recounted.

The backlash came as well from advertisers, and the economic pressure built everyday the paper ran the series. "It's one thing to lose an account when you're an employee," Miller wrote. "It's quite another when you're also a stockholder; 140 employees hold close to 49 percent of the company's stock. For many families, this is their retirement." Nevertheless, he recalled, "Most of what I heard inside our building were words of support." Publisher Roger Plothow was also staunchly unapologetic throughout, "standing up with a stoic and clear-eyed defense ... for the values of journalism."

The attacks weren't just financial, but personal as well -- including the outing of a gay staff reporter, Peter Zuckerman, by a local multimillionaire who bought full-page ads devoting several paragraphs to establishing that Zuckerman is gay. "Strangers started ringing Peter's doorbell at midnight," Miller wrote. "His partner of five years was fired from his job. Despite the harassment, Peter kept coming to work and chasing down leads on other pedophiles ... I spoke at his church one Sunday and meant it when I said that I hope my son grows into as much of a man as Peter had."

By then the paper had secured evidence of four other pedophiles in the local scout council, "about as many documented cases as the 500,000-member Catholic diocese of Boston when that scandal erupted in The Boston Globe," as Miller noted.

Laboring in obscurity, and without Big Media resources, community journalists "often end up dreaming small," Miller wrote. "But my 34 colleagues at the Post Register -- in particular the cadre of editors who have worked together for a decade and lead a largely entry-level staff -- refused to pull back in the face of much opposition."

So what's the moral of this fairy tale? To Dean Miller and the other ordinary heroes at the Post Register, it's clear:

"For us, these numbers testified to the value of fortitude. Publishing uncomfortable truths needn't be an act of hot-blooded courage; it should be a cool-headed exercise in focus:

Find the civic heart of a story, steer a steady course to it, and serve the public's legitimate interests in openness and justice. Do that and, even when the story rocks your boat, trust that the waves won't capsize it."


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