Jim Romanesko, the best media blogger you’ll read, recently posted a story about the decision by the Billings Gazette to not publish affidavits from the Jason Priest arrest, despite telling print readers the documents would be made available.
Gazette editor Darrell Ehrlich explained the decision not to run the affidavit:
First, the case involves children. And to the extent that we can, we try to shield them, although in many instances that’s impossible or difficult.
More importantly, I believe the court documents could paint Priest in a harsh light. And, just as much as I am a fervent supporter of the First Amendment, I am also a big believer in the due process that says it’s up to the courts to decide Priest’s innocence or guilt.
This is a newspaper that every month runs a recap of mug shots from local arrests. These mug shots do not represent convictions or admissions of guilt, but get featured at the top of the Gazette’s web page on its carousel of most important stories each month.
Unlike Mr. Priest, the people featured in those photographs are not public figures, nor are they likely to be moralizing blowhards who repeatedly criticize others for their lack of responsibility. Unlike Mr. Priest, they are not sitting senators in the Montana Legislature.
Like Senator Priest, though, I suspect most have families and reputations in their community. That those people might be depicted in “a harsh light” apparently doesn’t matter to the Billings Gazette’s editor, but when it came to the delicate sensibilities of someone who happens to be a Republican state senator, suddenly, there’s is a new found respect for discretion.
Surely, after all, it makes sense that on February 23rd Ehrlich was writing about the need for “taste, decorum, practice and most of all, judgment” to justify not publishing the charging documents, but ran February’s mug shots on March 2nd. I guess “decorum” and “judgment” take a back seat to page views, when it comes down to it.
I say troubling because the Gazette routinely posts charging documents stuffed to the gills with horrific allegations, stomach-churning descriptions of violence and appalling tales of depravity. But then a state senator is charged with several felonies and the Gazette is suddenly too dainty to burden its readers with allegations that could paint the alleged perp in a “harsh light”? In a word, bullshit.