SF hero's checkered past p.16

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By: Joe Strupp examined, but not chronicled
Enters media spotlight after being shot trying to thwart bank robber

After Antonio Castillo stopped an armed robber in a San Francisco bank, taking a bullet to the head in the process, the local media had no problem proclaiming him a bona fide hero.
But when information later surfaced that Castillo had a violent past as a drinker who had killed someone in a drunken driving accident and spent time in jail following a bar fight, San Francisco's daily newspapers took decidedly different approaches to the coverage.
While the afternoon San Francisco Examiner chose to publish the information about the 26-year-old's past legal problems, the morning San Francisco Chronicle, and most other Bay area newspapers, declined.
Reporters and editors in the region say the issue prompted heated debate in and out of newsrooms over whether Castillo's past is relevant news.
Supporters of the Examiner say every aspect of his life as a news subject should be revealed, while opponents argue that he should not be vilified in the press after risking his life to save others.
"We agonized for hours and hours about what we should do with this information," says Linda Strean, Chronicle assistant managing editor for news. "One of the considerations was that there were kids out there raising money for this man, not because of anything in his background, but because of what he did at the bank."
Examiner executive editor Phil Bronstein disagrees. He admits that the decision to publish Castillo's past history is a difficult one but adds that coverage of a story means coverage of everything.
"There is a tendency to characterize people in a one-dimensional way," says Bronstein. "I think we decided that people are complicated and messy, everyone. We all know that things are not black and white."
Castillo, who remains in recovery at San Francisco General Hospital, first garnered fame on Jan. 15 when he tackled armed robber Buford White during a hold-up at a Bank of America branch. Police say Castillo was shot in the head by White after knocking him down.
White, a suspect in at least 10 other bank robberies, eventually was killed by police outside the bank during a scuffle that also wounded two other officers.
During the days following the robbery attempt, the Chronicle, Examiner, and other newspapers wrote stories portraying Castillo as a good samaritan, a hard-working employee of a local moving company, and a friendly person.
The articles prompted several local groups and media outlets to begin fund-raising efforts to help defray Castillo's mounting medical bills.
On Jan. 28, the Examiner published a lengthy article detailing Castillo's present and past life, which included details of several arrests and drug and alcohol problems. Among those was a 1991 vehicular manslaughter conviction Castillo received after a fatal accident in which a 47-year-old man died. That incident landed Castillo in a yearlong work furlough program.
The Examiner also reported, in the same article, that Castillo had been cited for speeding and driving with a suspended license in 1995 and had spent a month in jail after getting into a bar fight in 1996.
San Francisco State University journalism professor Austin Long-Scott, a 23-year newspaper veteran, says the decision to publish such information must be based on its newsworthiness. "Why is it important that people know the negative stuff about this guy," Long-Scott asks. "The answer is different for different people. This person was in the news but did not ask to be in the news."
Examiner metro editor Dick Rogers says he sat on the background items for about five days before deciding to publish. He says the decision followed a lengthy meeting with a number of newsroom staffers.
"We didn't want to rush to judgment," Rogers says. Strean says the Chronicle also had the same information for several days before the Examiner story ran but says her editors did not believe it was worthwhile.
"For about a week, it was the worst-kept secret in Bay area journalism," says Strean. "I knew of at least two television stations that had it and several other newspapers."
In the end, only The Associated Press and KCBS Radio reported the Examiner information, Strean says.
?(Antion Castillo) [Caption]
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher February 20, 1999) [Caption]

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