Withholding public information creates double standard

Red Wing Republican Eagle
March 2, 2000

Our front page Monday carried a report of a 7-week-old boy who was revived after suffering cardiac arrest. The “heroes” included foster parents John and Sarah Robinson of Red Wing along with Lt. Randy Smith who was first to arrive at the housel. Scott Jackson, Randy Olson and Doug Rogers also were among those who responded.

One name was purposely absent from the article — the name of the child, who was under foster care. We also didn’t publish the child’s name in the ambulance runs printed on the FYI page.

In this case, we decided the potential hurt to the natural parent outweighed the public’s right to know the identity of the infant. We made the decision after speaking with personnel at Goodhue County Social Services.

The Republican Eagle has a strong tradition of aggressive reporting. In most cases, if information is a public record, it is published.

But the right to publish public records carries an accompanying responsibility. On rare occasions, we’ll withhold information. This was one of those cases.

Our reticence stemmed from the fear that one or more of the child’s parents might be living in the area. Identifying the child, who was born with medical problems, would raise the obvious question among acquaintances of the family: Why was the boy not in his parents’ home?

Welfare Director Sam Jacobson confirmed our suspicion. In nearly all cases foster children are placed with families in the home county. That was true here as well; one of the youth’s natural parents lives in Goodhue County.

In the final analysis, we asked ourselves whether we still had a compelling story without identifying the child.

As Jacobson said, “It was a great story. They (the crew) did a terrific job.”

We continue to be vigilante regarding public information and the needs of readers. As always, though, we base decisions on the merits of each case.