Life at a newspaper is seldom dull, and we would never have it any other way. There are those days, however, when the pace is brisk indeed and we must give an extra measure of care and consideration before deciding to push the "print" button.
Such a day passed back in October, and the story in question involved the Boy Scouts of America and a huge batch of previously undisclosed documents that told a tale of adults in scouting who were alleged to have sexually abused young boys as long as several decades ago.
Two of those cases were found to have ties to Mifflin County. One involved a man, now living in Lewistown, who resigned as a district scout executive in another area back in 1976, and admitted to scout leaders that he had engaged in "homosexual" activities with some scouts. However, he was never criminally charged. The other was a leader from Roaring Spring who pleaded guilty in 1982 to corruption of minors charges in Mifflin County, and served a jail sentence.
That about sums up the report we published back on Oct. 19, and as you might well have noticed we did not name the two men in question. We did, however, include a link in our print edition, as well as online, to a searchable database that readers with Internet access could easily read.
Since then we've received a bit of heat from individuals who charge that we are intentionally covering up facts and shielding from view people whose identity should be revealed to protect children of today from abuse. Well, those folks are entitled to their own opinions, of course, but we submit that deciding to print or withhold such information is never taken lightly.
Let's look at the case of the Lewistown resident. There were a number of issues that gave us reason to pause and consider this one. In the end, his name was withheld, primarily because he was never charged with any crime. Because of this, and because he did not fit the definition of a "public figure," printing his name would have left us wide open to legal action involving libel charges.
Just as important as defining a public figure is considering what constitutes "public information." That's not as simple as it may seem. Suffice it to say here that the information contained in that Boy Scout database is not public information because it does not come from the public sector. Public sector documents would include pretty much anything filed in county, state or federal court systems, plus records of government agencies like police departments and cities. Just because the public may have seen it does not make something a public document.
That's something every newspaper faces regularly, and obviously it's something we all worry about. We live in a litigious society where lawsuits are filed at the drop of a hat. And here's something you might not have considered: Letters to the editor, which often contain names and make charges, are just as open to libel action as anything else. The publication that prints them, not to mention the people who write and submit them, are equally likely to be sued.
We have to be careful every day. We have to consider the repercussions of what we print - or don't print - on every page. Some days, and some decisions are easier than others, to be sure. But we never take the responsibility for granted.