Picture of bombing victim’s home was wrong

This time, The Blade screwed up.

What’s gratifying to your ombudsman, however, is that the editors are big enough to admit it.

One of the most horrifying stories in a long time was the car bomb in Monroe last Tuesday that left Sylvania lawyer Erik Chappell and his sons Grant and Cole seriously injured.

The stories the newspaper has written about this mysterious and haunting event have been, in my opinion, thorough and tasteful.

But the editors made a mistake in the way they illustrated the story Thursday. Reader Ron Welty of Perrysburg was one of several who were offended. “I was shocked to see that you have included the name of the neighborhood in which they live, a map showing the area, and a photo of their home. How could you?

“From your stories and other media coverage … [the bombing] is apparently the work of someone seeking to do harm specifically to them. That person remains unidentified and on the loose.”

Both Executive Editor Kurt Franck and Managing Editor Dave Murray instantly realized this was a mistake.

“We sent a reporter and a photographer to the house because we wanted to follow the trail,” Mr. Franck said. “Authorities told us that the bomb could have been installed on the car at the home. But we should not have published a picture of the house. The family had been through enough anguish.”

Mr. Murray agreed. “I feel terrible about including a picture of the victim’s home,” he said.

He emphasized that the photographer was not to blame; her job was to document everything that might be conceivably newsworthy. But the editors who assembled the pages that evening made a mistake in judgment.

Actually, he noted that it is unlikely that the family was put in further danger; whoever put the bomb on the lawyer’s car almost certainly knows where he lives. “But that’s not the point,” he said.

“We didn’t need to add to their stress and pain.”

Bottom line: “We made a poor judgment call and I think we learned an important lesson for the future,” Mr. Franck said.

Frequently, readers complain that The Blade ignores national stories, often for reasons they think have to do with political bias. A gentleman from Temperance assailed me for what he felt was a lack of coverage of Jeffrey Immelt, the chairman of General Electric.

President Obama named Mr. Immelt the head of his council of Jobs and Competitiveness this year. After that, however, it was learned that Mr. Immelt had shipped U.S. jobs overseas to China.

The reader alleged that The Blade had deliberately not reported this, because the newspaper was determined to report nothing that makes President Obama and the Democratic Party look bad.

In fact, with the aid of the paper’s efficient librarian, Jordie Henry, I found no fewer than five news-service stories about Mr. Immelt, plus a Blade editorial in April calling on Mr. Obama to fire him.

“Must have missed that one,” the man muttered.

But The Blade missed one too.

Several readers complained that The Blade did not have a story about the special congressional election in New York Sept. 13, in which Republicans captured a seat that had been Democratic for decades. This was seen as an embarrassment to the Obama Administration and a serious rebuke from Jewish voters.

This time, the complaining readers were right.

Except for a story Sept. 19 on another topic that briefly mentioned the election in passing, The Blade seems to have ignored what was a nationally significant election.

Another special election the same day was less newsworthy; the GOP won a Nevada seat that was already solidly Republican. I am convinced the New York election was ignored for reasons of carelessness or bad judgment, not political bias.

But given that The Blade’s editorial pages are perceived as liberal, the editors ought to take care in the news pages to prevent even the slightest appearance of bias.

Reader Mike Schlee writes, “every article in the newspaper about terrorists blowing up people refers to them as ‘suicide bombers that kill people.’ Why can’t the news use the word ‘murder?’ ”

Well, it’s not because anyone has any sneaking sympathy for suicide bombers. The fact is that “murder” is a specific crime, the existence of which has to be determined by the courts.

“Kill” is a nonbiased term describing what happened. There also may have been some bombers who were used as pawns and did not know what was going to happen.

The job of those gathering and presenting the news is to be as even-handed as possible, even when that isn’t always easy to do.

Anyone who has a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade; 541 North Superior St., Toledo, 43660, or at my Detroit office: 563 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me, at 1-888-746-8610 or email me at OMBLADE@aol.com.

I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply.

Reminder, however: If you don’t leave me an email address or a phone number, I have no way to get in touch with you.

This column was originally published in the Toledo Blade on Oct. 25, 2011.

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