The story wasn't "ALIENS HAVE LANDED!!!" but it was almost as outrageous.
Brandon Bailey, a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, had just received
a shocking call from a teacher. The teacher alleged that as a boy, he had been
molested by a very well-respected priest at his church. He said other boys had
been abused as well. Bailey wrote an article about it.
That was several years ago. Just last month, the jury at that teacher's trial
awarded him around $1.5 million in damages from the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
Bailey reported on it that very afternoon.
Earlier that morning, Bailey had spoken to the journalism class at the same
high school where the man who made the call is a teacher.
Bailey visited because that class would soon be publishing an article about
the teacher's trial in their own paper. He spoke to the students about how to
write about tough subjects such as sexual abuse.
This is something people don't like to talk about at all, even among their friends
and family. Imagine how hard it would be to write about for millions of readers!
Bailey told the students about the complicated investigative process he went
through to report on the abuse in a non-inflammatory, balanced way. This was
especially difficult because the (now deceased) priest he was about to accuse
had been very popular and well-liked.
First, Bailey had to get more evidence. One man's word isn't sufficient proof
for such a shocking claim. Although the U.S. does have freedom of the press,
if a reporter knowingly publishes lies about someone that hurt their reputation,
it's called slander, and it's a criminal offense. They can be fined and even
put in jail.
So Bailey visited the teacher's former classmates, asking if they had experienced
anything. He said they could choose to remain anonymous. But he did need some
people who were willing to have their names appear in the paper.
Some men weren't ready to open up. After all those years, they still felt shame,
fear or something else that stopped them. But others were ready. Eventually,
Bailey found five men willing to speak openly and five others who would speak
anonymously. This was enough evidence for Bailey to stand behind his claim.
But Bailey's job wasn't done. One of the important aspects of journalism is
to be fair and balanced, to get every side of the story. So Bailey visited the
remaining family of the priest in question. He told them about the article he
was writing and asked if they had any comments. He asked what the priest would
have wanted to say in response to the claims.
And then he went to work writing the article. It was a difficult job. He had
to remain respectful to both the victims, the accused and the families of all
Was it correct for him to report on this story? After all, he was, as ABbayb290
put it, "totally trashing someone's reputation." The priest's family
would probably prefer that article not have been published at all. So was it
I say yes. Because after the article was published, many more people realized
that they were not alone in their shame and suffering. They found the courage
to come forth with their story and realize that it wasn't their fault. And now
they're receiving counseling and compensation for the terrible harm they experienced
After Bailey finished telling the class his story, he talked with them about
everything from journalistic integrity to tabloids to the right of journalists
to keep their sources private. There is so much to think about when it comes
to covering the news!
What do you think?
Editor's Note: This is an incredible story. Thank you for your
report, JasmineK, and thanks to Mr. Bailey for his work, and thanks to that
teacher who spoke up five years ago. What a difficult topic this is!
Hopefully, we don't have issues as serious to deal with here in Whyville,
but in what ways does this story affect how we should report the news in the
Times? How do you determine what is fair and balanced, and how should I as the
Editor make sure everything I publish is accurate and valuable?