A paid advertisement that ran in last week’s issue has stirred up a firestorm of controversy.
The level of angst and extreme hostility aimed toward this newspaper has been startling at times, particularly last weekend when I was verbally berated in an expletive-laden tirade by the husband of a teacher who threatened and promised to ruin this company. Dozens of emails and phone calls and a few other personal confrontations, of varying intensities, have followed since last Friday.
Thank you to the rational folks who called to have sensible talks that simply ended in disagreement.
In the interest of fairness, large segments of the community, the silent majority in our estimation, understands why the ad was published and have no problem at all with this newspaper.
The focus of the ad was to boost membership in a new support group being formed to address the general topic of bullying in public schools, specifically Stephen Decatur High School. The ad specifically recounted some alleged bullying examples and identified by name two baseball coaches and the school’s principal.
The vulgar and threatening grocery store confrontation crossed the line and is an extreme that’s unjustified under any circumstances, particularly one that was the result of the protection of the First Amendment. That sort of approach towards me and this paper exemplifies the alleged behavior that brought this ad to print in the first place. That was a startling irony involving the First Amendment.
The question readers irked over the ad want an answer to is: Why did we accept the paid advertisement?
Some critics this week allege it was all about the money. That’s an absurdly simple-minded allegation and baseless. The revenue generated from this ad (and this week’s second ad for that matter) had nothing to do with the decision to publish the information.
The miniscule net revenue achieved from these ads pales in comparison to the costs associated with donating hundreds of inches of ad space on a weekly basis to promote community fundraisers, including many held to improve certain aspects of the local high school. That’s not to mention all the photos and articles that appear weekly in the newspaper highlighting student and teacher accomplishments. That’s something we are proud to do and that’s an obligation we take seriously as a community newspaper.
Last week’s ad does nothing to change the way this community newspaper is operated. For instance, on Monday, we covered the high school’s playoff baseball game, as would under any circumstances. Based on the nature of the threats made against this newspaper, however, I admit to having concerns for my staff member, who fortunately was not harassed.
Prior to publication of the bullying ad, the allegations made in the ad were vetted and it was concluded there was enough merit behind them to allow the advertisement. They are not absurd accusations made simply over playing time, as some allege.
What the community does not know is an internal investigation at the school took place in regard to a series of situations involving the baseball team and a specific player. Coaches and players were interviewed. Disciplinary action against at least one coach was imminent at one point after the internal probe found wrongdoing, but later withdrawn after the player was the only senior not to play in the final game of the regular season that usually features all seniors getting some playing time.
Consequently, coaching staff retaliation against the senior ball player and his family for going public with their complaints was alleged. Insistence from the parents for more intense discipline on the coaches was demanded, resulting in an impasse between the parents involved and administration.
The specific nature of the incidents and whether the school’s response to them was appropriate will likely be decided down the line by a court of law, unfortunately.
Tony DiBuo and his family have the First Amendment right to do what they did last week. To do otherwise would have been to censor DiBuo or perhaps even discriminate. Whether I believe going public with this was the right call is not germane here. He had the right to seek publication and air what specific concerns led to the creation of the bullying support group.
Many disagree vehemently, saying we allowed a disgruntled family to stain the image of two beloved teachers/coaches and a respected school principal in what should be a joyous time of year as graduation looms and the school year comes to a close.
I admit the timing was unfortunate, but we support the First Amendment in its totality, no matter the extreme circumstances.
In the days that followed the ad, we have been flooded with response letters to the editor, and they will be published as received, even if they include harsh criticism of this publication as some did.
That’s our duty and we will not censor the citizens who want to express their passionate views, whether we agree or not with the content expressed. That was the same approach taken to last week’s ad.
We remain committed to staying consistent with that methodology.Respectfully,
J. Steven Green