(AP) Ever since The Miami Herald outed presidential candidate Gary Hart as an adulterer, journalists have anguished over how far to go in reporting the personal lives of elected officials.
The debate took on new life this month in northeastern Pennsylvania, where some newspapers and broadcast outlets have declined to report on an encounter between U.S. Rep. Don Sherwood and a 29-year-old woman.
After obtaining a tip and a police report, the Times Leader newspaper of Wilkes-Barre reported that officers had been dispatched to the 64-year-old congressman’s Washington home last September after a woman dialed 911 from his bathroom.
The woman told police that Sherwood had been giving her a back rub and abruptly began choking her. Sherwood, who is married, denied assaulting the woman and no charges were filed.
Other news organizations, including The Associated Press, quickly picked up on the story. Sherwood issued a statement apologizing for “the pain and embarrassment” he caused his family. He didn’t explain the nature of his relationship with the woman.
But it hasn’t made the pages of The Scranton Times; its sister paper, The Tribune; or The Citizens’ Voice of Wilkes-Barre, three newspapers owned by Times Shamrock Communications.
Lawrence K. Beaupre, the managing editor of The Scranton Times and The Tribune, explained the decision in a letter to readers on May 8.
“Call me crazy. Call me stubborn. But I don’t think anyone’s private, so-far legal affairs are my business. Or yours. Not even if it’s a politician. Not even if the matter is tawdry,” he wrote, adding, “Where is the connection between the politician’s private moral life and his public performance?”
Beaupre said he might change his mind if criminal charges were filed against Sherwood or if the woman sued the congressman. He criticized the Times Leader for publishing its initial story, calling it guilty of “sanctimonious self-righteousness.”
Times Leader Managing Editor David Iseman defended the decision to publish, saying the stories were evenhanded and gave a voice to the woman who made the assault claim, Cynthia Ore of Maryland.
“She is insisting that a congressman hurt her,” Iseman said. “We thought people should know that. Let people draw their own conclusions.”
Two northeast Pennsylvania television stations, WBRE and WYOU, also refrained from reporting the woman’s claims.