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Newspaper failed to tell the full story

March 26, 2006|By JOHN LEAGUE

The basic bond between a newspaper and its readership is essentially the same as the relationship between two people.

That bond is trust.

Readers should trust that newspapers, whether it's The Herald-Mail or any reputable news-gathering organization, are doing all they can to print the full and complete story.

Sometimes there are roadblocks to news gathering. But what we ask of ourselves and our editors and reporters is 100 percent effort each day to cover the news fully and completely.

When we fail to do that, we tamper with that trust.

That is why we make every effort to give all sides of every story the opportunity to comment and respond to what we intend to report. We believe that fundamental fairness requires us to tell the story from all sides.

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Unfortunately, we let you down during the past few weeks, and we did the same with Hagerstown City Councilwoman Alesia Parson-McBean.

We failed to tell the full story. We fully covered the initial incident in which Ms. Parson-McBean accepted a ride to the Motor Vehicle Administration from the police so that she could renew her expired tags. We fully covered the issue when it went before the Washington County Ethics Commission, which issued an opinion that Ms. Parson-McBean violated the city's ethics code by her actions following the traffic stop.

We did so because we believe that government officials should be held accountable for their actions and that the public has a right to know about them.

But we also have the obligation to give those officials the opportunity to respond and to fully report that response.

Ms. Parson-McBean did respond by issuing an apology for her actions. While she did not initially send it to The Herald-Mail, we requested a copy and she did provide it.

We had an obligation to print that apology promptly - not weeks later. The fact that the omission was not intentional or deliberate is not the point. If we believed that the Councilwoman's actions were significant enough to warrant the type of coverage we gave this story, it was only fair to include her apology as part of her response.

We owe an apology to Councilwoman Parson-McBean. We need to cover the issues of our community and the people who make decisions affecting all of us aggressively, but we need to do so completely and fairly. That's how a democracy is supposed to work, and the role the press plays in the process.

In this instance, we failed in our obligation to do that. To Councilwoman Parson-McBean, my apologies as well as those from The Herald-Mail.

In this case, The Herald-Mail, much to our regret, failed in its mission to report the news as completely and accurately as we can.

We have risked the fragile bond of trust with our readers, and it will take a lot of work on our end to repair the frayed bonds of trust.

We apologize to our readers. We can do better, and we will.




John League is editor and publisher of The Herald-Mail. He may be reached at jleague@herald-mail.com.

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