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Published: Sunday, 5/12/2013

Son of Cleveland suspect is part of bizarre story

BY JACK LESSENBERRY
BLADE OMBUDSMAN

Douglas Neckers, a distinguished professor emeritus at Bowling Green State University, wasn’t happy with a story in The Blade about the son of accused Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro.

The story, by staff writer Tanya Irwin, revealed that the son, who goes by Anthony Castro despite having the same name as his now-infamous father, graduated from Bowling Green State University in 2004 with a journalism degree.

Mr. Neckers wondered: “How fair is this? Unless the son knew something about the situation in Cleveland, it makes no sense to impugn him just because of what his father does, I believe.”

Did The Blade cross the line? Your ombudsman doesn’t think so. For one thing, this was the most sensational and newsworthy story in the nation last week.

But what makes Anthony Castro especially relevant is the bizarre irony that after graduation, he wrote about a kidnapping in which the key suspect now seems to have been his own father. In June, 2004, the younger Mr. Castro covered the story of the search that same year for Gina DeJesus for the Plain Press, a community newspaper for Cleveland’s west side.

As far as anyone knows, he had no idea that she had been kidnapped and was being held as a sex slave by his own father.

The irony of that alone makes it newsworthy. As most of the world now knows, the elder Ariel Castro, who is accused of holding three young women hostage for a decade, may have been one of the most horrifying sexual predators in modern history.

Tanya Irwin, the reporter who did the story, told me that she left multiple messages for the younger Mr. Castro, who now works for a bank in Columbus, to give him a chance to respond. (He did not.)

The courts have ruled repeatedly that newsworthiness sometimes trumps privacy concerns. In this case, however, there is no question that Anthony Castro is clearly, if bizarrely, a part of the story.

Even if, as it seems, through no fault of his own.

Nearly two months ago, The Blade posted online the salaries of all University of Toledo faculty members. Because they are paid with taxpayer dollars, UT employees’ salaries are public information.

But it turns out the numbers The Blade posted were wrong. On April 30, Stephen Christman, a professor of psychology at UT, became the first of more than 50 faculty members to complain to me.

“The information on salaries for UT faculty is either mistaken or misleading. The numbers on your Web site reflect salary plus health insurance plus pensions, but the Web site simply says ‘gross pay.’”

Turns out that he was right. The figures were all wrong. And for once, it was immediately clear who was responsible for the error.

The University of Toledo.

“The figures and ‘gross pay’ [designation] all came from UT,” said Kurt Franck, The Blade’s executive editor. This was quickly confirmed by David Dabney, UT’s chief financial officer.

“The Controller’s office is working on doing the [data] requested correctly, and will be providing that information to The Blade as soon as it has been extracted correctly.”

Meantime, Mr. Franck has had erroneous figures removed from toledoblade.com. When the school sends new, accurate salary figures, the newspaper plans to post those.

Toledoan Leonard Hargrove is disgruntled and disgusted, he says, over what he thinks is The Blade’s too-heavy coverage of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis I.

“The Blade has changed its name to “The Pope Francis Observer,” he said. Mr. Hargrove, who sent me multiple letters on the subject, believes all religion is essentially neurosis.

Your ombudsman is not Roman Catholic — or, indeed, a member of any religion. But I think anytime a new pope is elected it is a big story and probably bigger now than in the past.

The Roman Catholic Church is by far the biggest Christian denomination in Toledo, the United States, and around the world.

Hundreds of millions of people look to the Pope for leadership and inspiration. Francis I, the former Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina, is the first Pope from Latin America, or indeed, this hemisphere.

He was a surprise choice and takes the helm of a church torn by sexual and financial scandals, facing a clergy shortage, and amid demands that the Pope allow married, perhaps even female priests.

Now that’s a big story in anyone’s book.

To my mind, the Block News Alliance’s decision to send a reporter to Rome to cover the papal conclave, and the subsequent coverage of the new Pope’s reign has met the tests of newsworthiness, fairness, and balance.

From time to time, I am asked whether there are “blacklists” of certain people whose letters won’t be published in the Readers’ Forum, or topics that are taboo.

David Kushma, The Blade’s editor, who oversees The Pages of Opinion, says there is no truth in either notion. “The assertion that we favor letters that express ‘liberal’ opinions is belied by even a casual reading of Readers’ Forum,” he told me last week.

“The point is to expose our readers to as many diverse viewpoints from as many different people as possible,” which is precisely why the letters section is called Readers’ Forum.

Finally, he said The Blade hasn’t changed its letters policy; it is published every day on the editorial page,” as well as online.

Anyone who has a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me c/o The Blade, 541 N. 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.

Jack Lessenberry is a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and a former national editor of The Blade.



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