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Friday, Jan. 30, 2015

When the news becomes a weapon

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

There's news, there's gossip, and then there are people who want to use the news media as a weapon.

It's those individuals of whom we in the media are wary.

I've written about this issue before, but the story of teacher Dawn Bobo accidentally bringing a gun to Liberty School is a perfect example.

We needed to hear about the incident. But we don't publish rumors, which is why we held the story until I confirmed late Monday morning that Bobo had been charged. With action having been taken, we had the story on our web site shortly after noon.

I respectfully disagree with anyone, including school or law enforcement officials, who thinks the incident should have been kept silent. It's important to get facts out in order to bring a quick halt to the infamous Bedford County rumor mill.

And I'll be more than a little concerned if Bobo's name doesn't show up in the "jail intake" list we receive each day. No one's name should be withheld -- ever.

But there's a massive difference between what Dawn Bobo allegedly did and someone intentionally bringing a weapon to a school or building to harm others. That should be kept in the forefront of everyone's minds in this situation. None of us are perfect.

We don't need to handle this story, or any others, from the standpoint of individuals who apparently hold a grudge.

The vehemence of one particular woman, who says she notified the media of the Liberty situation (including us, through an angry e-mail) and has left website reader comments on the story, amazes me.

I won't repeat this person's many accusations from the e-mail, but it's obvious she was out to get Bobo.

Two big questions form immediately in my mind when I'm contaced by persons making allegations: What's their motive and their desired result? To uncover truths -- or to satisfy personal grudges or "get back" at someone?

And there's a third question: Am I hearing truths, one-sided claims or false allegations?

Our mission is to report news, not to destroy people who have hurt themselves already through their own actions.

We want to be informed of actual, legitimate wrongs occurring. And we heard about this case from at least two other individuals who took a more reasonable approach.

Unfortunately, some people think the media should be their own personal attack dogs, reporting unproven accusations or rumors they hear as if they were facts. How wrong they are.

I've also noticed the number of people complaining that Bobo received special treatment. Up to this point, I haven't seen that. But leiniency should be allowed ANYONE who makes an honest mistake -- no matter who they are.

Several people have expressed the feeling that Bobo should have received harsher legal treatment and news coverage.

"It's all because Mrs. Bobo's family has money," the e-mail read.  I don't know or care how much money they or anyone else has. That never affects our coverage, and in an ideal world it shouldn't affect how officials or courts handle situations. All should -- note the word should -- be treated fairly.

And, in all honesty, 20 years from now it's not going to make any difference in anyone's life because Dawn Bobo accidentally brought a gun to school in 2007 -- unless it's her own life, if she's treated too harshly for an honest mistake.

Ultimately the Bedford County school board needs to initiate open discussion, within public meetings, about alleged special treatment of students/teachers based on "who they are."

This perceived problem's gone on too long -- and it's a much more important issue than a dress code, which won't eliminate preferential treatment if it exists.

David Melson is a Times-Gazette staff writer. Your responses welcome at dmelson@t-g.com. See also Melson's blog entry making reference to this column.

David Melson
On the Loose