The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 11, 2012

Chip Minemyer | Shooting the messenger easier than accepting truth

Chip Minemyer

— Grief and frustration can make people do seemingly misguided things – including hurling unfair criticism at reporters simply doing their jobs.

In a classic case of “shoot the messenger,” media outlets that covered the recent car-crash death of a former high school coach and substitute teacher facing sex-related charges find themselves under fire.

I sympathize with the feeling of loss the man’s friends and family members are experiencing.

But I struggle to understand how a reporter ­– noting disturbing charges recently filed against a teacher when that teacher dies as the result of alcohol-related car crash – suddenly becomes the bad guy.

The Tribune-Democrat’s David Hurst has been unfairly attacked in comments on our website for following orders and writing the story his bosses – including me – instructed him to write. Reporters at other local media outlets have faced similar reactions.

The entire situation is sad and unfortunate.

It’s always easier to lash out at someone else than to accept the troubling truth about a person you know and love.

In November, two teachers at the same local school district were accused of having inappropriate and illegal relationships with students.

The ensuing scandal prompted the school district to hold a public meeting with parents and residents, at which the superintendent said the school system was taking steps to win back the trust of those who send their children there each day.

One of those two teachers faced charges including involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault and corruption of minors.

While free on bond and awaiting his preliminary hearing, that teacher was involved in a crash on a local rural roadway. He was taken to an area hospital, where he died of traumatic brain injuries.

The coroner said tests revealed that the man had a blood-alcohol level of 0.24 at the time of the crash – three times the state’s legal limit of .08. Police also said they believed he was speeding when his car left the road and crashed into a garage.

His death is a cause for sorrow, especially for his family and closest friends.

But the charges he faced from a very public situation at the school could not be ignored when the fatal crash was reported. Those charges were too recent, and the case was ongoing.

Without that information, the story is incomplete.

No doubt everyone involved wishes they could turn back the clock and make the whole story go away.

But time moves only forward.

And we can’t pick only good news for our pages.

Mr. Hurst is a big boy who doesn’t need me to defend him. People who get into this business know they’ll get their share of criticism, especially from those who land in the news for reasons they would rather not see exposed or be forced to confront.

But defend him I must, especially when his only “sin” was reporting the truth – which is what we ask of everyone on our staff, and what is expected of anyone who accepts the responsibility that comes with the title of journalist.

Even when the truth hurts.

Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.

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