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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Lauren Spierer, due process, and journalistic integrity

Posted by Scott Tibbs at 4:00 AM (#)

Note: I sent this e-mail to Herald-Times editor Bob Zaltsberg last week.

Mr. Zaltsberg,

I was very disappointed with this line in your editorial on Wednesday for a number of reasons.

  • "Four men, who hired lawyers through which to make denials of wrongdoing after being associated with Spierer on that last morning, live with a cloud of suspicion."

As you well know by reading the comments on HeraldTimesOnline.com in the days after Lauren Spierer vanished, a lynch mob was quickly forming. Even if they did nothing wrong that night, it is not unusual for a scapegoat to be found in a tragic case like this one - and even in cases where no crime was ever committed. One such example is the case of Bernard Baran, who was convicted after fraudulent "abuse" claims and sent to prison where he was repeatedly violently raped.

In a situation like this one, where you have a high-profile tragedy and emotions running high, it would be incredibly foolish to not immediately hire a lawyer and shut your mouth. I find it extremely sad that a newspaper that relies on the freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights to exist and operate would publicly shame someone for exercising other liberties protected by the Bill of Rights - such as the right to an attorney and the right to due process.

But more than that, there is an issue of basic journalistic integrity here. Yes, these men have lived under suspicion for the past four years, in no small part to editorials that continue to attach them to Spierer's disappearance despite the complete lack of any actual evidence they were at all connected to it. Including two of the men as being under "suspicion" is especially egregious and borders on dishonest, and quite frankly I think your newspaper owes both men a retraction and an apology.

One of the men was home working on a term paper when his roommate and Spierer showed up drunk. He took her to a neighbor's apartment in hopes that she would be fine. Should he, or the neighbor, have been a gentleman and walked her home? Sure. But is it fair that someone who was doing literally nothing wrong, and was trying to be a responsible student, would be named by the newspaper as living under "suspicion" because his roommate was out partying while he was home working? Really?

Spierer's boyfriend was not even with her that night, and reported her missing to police the next day. Including him by name as living "with a cloud of suspicion" is unfair and borders on dishonest sensationalism.

The editorial was a worthwhile reminder of why we need to be concerned about the safety of women in our community. It is too bad that it was tarnished by yet another needless swipe at these four men, at least two of which should have been long ago cleared of any "suspicion" in this case.

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