Dave Gibson, Washington Examiner, Aug. 6, 2009
My July 22 article, entitled “Virginia newspaper refuses to print race of wanted suspect,” commented on the absurdity of a report on the Loudoun Times-Mirror website which listed the height, weight, and clothing of a robbery suspect, but failed to mention the suspect’s race.
The piece (“Four men robbed in Sugarland Run”) appeared in the Times-Mirror on July 20 was actually changed several days later, when the race of the suspect was listed.
Not only was the race of the black suspect in this robbery retroactively inserted into the article, but the race of a Hispanic suspect in another crime had also been listed. This was a tremendous change in the policy of the Times-Mirror, as explained to me by a staffer with the paper.
Both before and after I wrote my article criticizing the policy of deleting the race of wanted suspects, I made several attempts to contact the paper’s editor Paul Smith. He has refused to reply to both my emails as well as my phone calls.
However, the following response was left in the comments section under my article:
“Loudoun Time-Mirror says:
This is the Loudoun Times-Mirror responding.
First, it is not our policy to omit all mention of race. That was a misunderstanding. We follow AP style: Race is not to be used as the sole identifier of a person, but when it serves a useful purpose as part of a broader description of a person, it is to be included. The online version of this particular story has been updated, and it appeared correctly in print.
Secondly, your report contains inaccuracies. For example, our reporter gave you her name. Also, you never identified your affiliation or stated your purpose in the call. Disclosing your identity and purpose before conducting an interview is a basic tenet of good journalism.
We regret the misunderstanding on our race policy, and we welcome all comments and questions, as well as criticism.”
Despite the statement, the reporter to whom I spoke told me emphatically that it had become the policy of the Loudoun Time-Mirror, to always omit any mention of race in every story, even when describing an at-large suspect.
Her exact words to me were: “all mention of race must be taken out of every story.”
What I left out of my article was the frustration she said she felt with this policy and her desire to list the race of every wanted suspect. When I told her that I would try again to speak with her editor about the policy, she laughed and said “Oh yeah, good luck with that!”
I will leave it up to you, the reader, to decide if the omission of the suspect’s race was simply a “misunderstanding,” or the now, former policy of the paper.
Had Mr. Smith acted as any good editor would have and responded honestly to my brief and polite questions, I would not have had to dig up the truth from one of his reporters, nor would I have even written the article.
Smith is no doubt angry because he was called-out for a ridiculous, politically-correct policy that put the good people (of all races) of Loudoun County at risk, by refusing to list the race when describing wanted suspects. He can remain anonymous on my website, and he can go on ducking my questions, he can even continue lecturing me on the basic tenets of “good journalism.”
I will however, continue to tell the truth and remember that one of those “basic tenets” is an obligation to protect the public. Unfortunately, many of those who still work in old media, seem to have forgotten that principle.