Necessary reporting

Published 11:56 am Saturday, June 27, 2009

Despite the fact that we lived three houses apart for more than a year, I’ve never met Ed Moyler.

In a neighborhood as tight-knit as any I’ve ever experienced, where hardly a day passes that my wife and I don’t interact with a neighbor on a front lawn or back deck, my failure to make Moyler’s acquaintance says as much about my neighborliness as his.

He is, by all accounts, a nice man whom I would have enjoyed getting to know. He is also, in the judgment of a Southampton County grand jury, a thief of staggering audacity who diverted millions of dollars intended by a benefactor for charitable causes in this community and state to personal use. Given the former attorney’s prominence on our news pages of late, it’s probably just as well that we never became friends.

One of the few downsides of publishing a community newspaper is the inevitability of strained relationships when people you know – or friends of friends – do bad things. My two decades of newspaper publishing have left a few broken friendships in their wake. I’ve had friends and acquaintances embezzle money, beat their wives and hurt others while driving drunk – and then ask me to keep it out of the newspaper.

Journalistic ethics require a newspaper to report news of interest without regard to social or economic considerations. The latter is why we work very hard to keep our newspaper financially strong – so that economic and political pressure, even if applied, are ineffective. Social consequences can be harder to swallow, primarily because of an innate desire to be liked but also because they are felt not just by the publisher but by his family.

It’s the price one occasionally pays to maintain his integrity, which supersedes popularity or social standing.

Frankly, I expected to take more heat about our Moyler coverage than I have. When we first reported his admission in a civil proceeding that he had misused a client’s money, one reader angrily told us to “lay off of Ed.��� The first story was the tip of the iceberg, of course, as a criminal investigation and indictment would follow.

I’ve talked to at least a dozen of Moyler’s friends and colleagues about the case generally and about our coverage specifically. None was critical, and a few of them, I can say from experience, would not have hesitated to tell me had they thought we’d been unfair. One did tell me, “I sure am sorry that you had to do it.”

So am I. The newspaper gets no glee from another’s misery. Neither can we discount this story’s importance in the community.

The crime of which Moyler is accused is breathtaking in its magnitude and public impact. Every citizen of this community is a victim. Franklin-Southampton Charities and Franklin Fire and Rescue — and, by extension, the community at large — are poorer today because they didn’t get the money a generous widow wished to give back to the town she loved.

I will leave it to the judicial system to determine Moyler’s guilt and, if appropriate, his punishment. I see little value to society of putting an elderly, sick man in prison. Nor can I think of an acceptable substitute.

The hope and expectation is simply that the decision-makers in that system share this publisher’s distaste for preferential treatment.