Editorial: Public has the right to be informed in Cross casePublished 10:40pm Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Local newspapers, TV and radio stations have been toeing a fine line in the last few weeks while covering the case of Ivery Cross, a former Niles police officer accused of criminal sexual conduct with an inmate in the law enforcement center.
The purpose of journalism is to inform the public so that they might better form their own opinions. In cases in which people are alleged to have committed deplorable acts, journalists are stuck between providing too little information for the public to become informed, and providing too much information for local standards of decency. When allegations — and alleged confessions — include details that might be considered offensive to some, our job becomes even more difficult.
Public opinion often hinges on degrees of alleged impropriety. Public opinion of a man accused of stealing a candy bar from a vending machine will undoubtedly be different than public opinion of a man accused of bilking thousands of people out of their retirement accounts. Both are theft, but one end of the spectrum is more palatable than the other.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a White House intern. The nightly news casts, in reporting the details of the allegations against him, forced many parents to have uncomfortable conversations with children who overheard and wondered what the different “types” of sex were. Certainly public opinion of the president would have been different had he been accused of merely kissing the intern on the cheek — just as opinions would have also been different had he been accused of carrying on a yearlong romantic relationship with her.
In this case, the degrees of criminal sexual conduct — while all offensive in their own right — become a factor in how the public forms their own opinions. Mr. Cross could have been accused of doing less to warrant a CSC charge; but he could also have been accused of doing far more. Without knowing the details of the allegations, our imaginations tend to wander away in both directions — to both the lesser and more egregious ends of the spectrum. The news media have an obligation to both sides to report the details as accurately as possible, and to report information as it becomes available.
If, for example, a reader had information that might benefit one side or the other of the case and wanted to present it to the court, they would have no way to know the case was even going on without the involvement of the media. Readers have a right to cross their fingers and hope that the criminal justice system will sort out the truth and accurately find the officer innocent or guilty of the charges against him, but without an independent watchdog, how can anyone be sure?
In the end, regardless of the court’s finding, both sides will find reasons to disagree with the ruling. A better informed public, however, will be much more likely to find common ground.