'Thanks a frickin' lot'
It was a typical call.
"Thanks a frickin' lot," was the sign off on the answering machine. Maybe not so typical after all -- most callers would have used the original word.
The caller was upset about a thoroughly researched story on a court case, detailing a fifth arrest for drunk driving which had resulted in the defendant pleading guilty to first-offense drunk driving in exchange for dropping of more serious charges and the sentence which would have accompanied a conviction.
In truth, the caller probably would have preferred the story to not have been reported at all.
It's tempting to pull out an old saw employed by previous generations of news people -- "If you don't want it in the paper, don't let it happen."
Like it or not, the paper is part of the legal system, reporting to the public court actions which are public record. Too many defendants to mention have attempted to accomplish, by keeping their case out of the court of public opinion, what they couldn't accomplish in an actual court of law.
Sometimes, however, the court of public opinion carries more weight than the actual court of law.
To be sure, it would come down hard on a repeat drunk driver who succeeded in killing innocent people after receiving just one more reduced sentence as the result of a plea bargain.
Or, how about the child molester who was able to continue his activities because his reputation failed to precede him adequately, even in a community as small as ours? We know of specific examples, only learning after the fact what tendencies the wrongdoer possessed.
We were criticized for publishing a story, once, about a celebrity who landed his aerobatic biplane here in a quick stop for fuel.
A short while later, we were saddened to hear of his death flying a home-built aircraft he had just purchased.
With a little research, we found the Federal Aviation Administration had previously revoked his pilot's license for failure to abstain from alcohol following a drunk driving conviction.
There was no sign that the pilot had alcohol in his system at the time of his death.
But who knows, had our McCook refueling story received more widespread attention in those pre-Internet days, perhaps we would be still enjoying John Denver's live performances today.