Dark truths hate to be brought to light

Well, thank heavens that got clarified.

After being found guilty of 62 counts of child porn possession, sex assault and child enticement, former teacher Tim Schmidt made it clear that his abuse of power and predation on children was thrown way out of proportion by the news media.

The Shawano Leader’s reporting of Schmidt’s assault, on both the actual student and the children whose photos he downloaded on the internet, was slanderous and defaming, he said.

Defaming? Because we didn’t present a “fair and balanced” response? Should we have sought out someone who argued that, really, sexual predation on children is not so bad?

Slanderous? Because he wasn’t charged with a crime, wasn’t convicted — oh, wait. Both of those are true.

In the media world, reporters are witness to both the best and worst of humanity. Our goal is to convey what happens to our readers in a way that allows our community to bear witness as well. If we are truly fair and balanced, we allow the facts to speak and we select the information that tells the story in a way that is understandable and complete.

Because we are part of the community of readers, we try to be respectful as well. That means that in a recent story on human trafficking, the worst of the lurid details presented by the speaker were not included in the story. Lee Pulaski, our city editor, was able to convey the horrors of human trafficking, present the facts, and make an honest representation of the event without subjecting potential young readers to descriptions best not read aloud after dinner.

The media has not always been respectful to victims of crimes. Reporting has evolved to avoid naming victims of rape, of any age. There are those who argue that naming the perpetrators “elevates” them to a level of notoriety that causes copycat crimes and provides them with their much-desired 15 minutes of fame.

The problem with hiding the facts about crimes is that we don’t fix what we can’t see. For decades, domestic abuse wasn’t reported as a crime because it was something to be dealt with in the family. “Decent people” didn’t talk about those things.

Human trafficking is not something we want to believe is in our own backyard, but it is here. Decent people have to talk about it or it will remain among us. Child predation is in our own backyard. Decent people talked about it, and our law enforcement and court system was able to do something about it.

There were consequences for Schmidt’s victim that I am sure the family did not imagine when they made their complaint. Whether or not victims are named in print, in a small town, small school, in social media, their identities can become known. It is not an easy thing to face one’s tormentor, and may be even more difficult to face one’s schoolmates afterwards.

So in the interest of fair and balanced reporting, I’d like to offer a fact-based alternative to the crocodile tears that Schmidt shed for his victim — a word of support and thanks to the victim and her family.

Thank you for standing up to someone who was supposed to be guiding you, and who failed you completely.

Thank you for bringing this issue to light.

Thank you for going through the difficult process of a prosecution.

Thank you for believing that you would be believed.

Thank you for making sure that at least one deplorable human being will not be able to hurt anyone else.

You made a difference. That is a fact.

“It’s my duty to see that they get the truth; but that’s not enough, I’ve got to put it before them briefly so that they will read it, clearly so that they will understand it, forcibly so that they will appreciate it, picturesquely so that they will remember it, and, above all, accurately so that they may be wisely guided by its light.” — Joseph Pulitzer

Carol Ryczek is the editor-in-chief of the Shawano Leader, Oconto County Times Herald and Wittenberg Enterprise & Birnamwood News. Contact her at cryczek@newmedia-wi.com.