The Blog Squad

Sunday, December 04, 2005

More thoughts on the Johnson story

Some more thoughts on this Stephen Johnson story. There is no doubt in my mind that the guy used lousy judgment in posting to that Web site, but the judgment I really call into question here is the news judgment of the Times-Dispatch. Think about it. They’ve got allegations of sexual harassment against a high school principal. Bigger still, they’ve got the current sheriff refusing to allow the newly-elected sheriff access to the jail. Michelle Mitchell is also denying the mayor’s independent jail panel access to the jail, the staff and department documents. These stories run on B-1. But the Johnson story is A-1, top of the fold, in the same spot that the day before was occupied by a picture of the president and a story about a major speech on the war in Iraq. The second day story on Johnson runs in the same place. What's beneath the fold? Ten Marines killed in Iraq.
What is going on here? Johnson did not break any laws and there is nothing to suggest that his personal life has had any effect on his job at School Board chief. Why did it receive this level of attention? Would it have been A-1 news if he’d posted something “very graphic” on a straight Web site?
Believe me, I am making no apologies for him. I think it was idiotic to post on that site from a political perspective. But here is my point: It does not matter to me and probably most people what public officials do in their private lives, but these things continue to make their way into legitimate news stories. Johnson was probably guilty of being naive more than anything, to think that there's no one out there trying to trip him up. And shame on the T-D for taking the bait. Did they sit in their newsroom debating the relevance of this information to Johnson's job as School Board chief? And would they have run it or played it as big if it had been a straight Web site?


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