Selective outrage

Published 10:25 am Saturday, February 22, 2014

Earlier this month, we published the separate reports of two people who were arrested and charged on suspicion of violent crimes.

One was Dr. Alan Edwards, a prominent local physician and an elected member of the Southampton County Board of Supervisors. He was arrested on Feb. 3 and charged with assault and battery of a family member.

The other was Shameyer Ashburn, a 24-year-old woman from Franklin’s south side. She was arrested on Feb. 12 and charged with the homicide of a 6-year-old child. Edwards was released on bond. Ashburn was remanded to the Western Tidewater Regional Jail. Both individuals await trial, which means neither guilt nor innocence has been established in either case. Both will have their day in court.

Neither story is a pleasant one to report on. And while the charges made against Ashburn are obviously the more serious of the two, both she and Edwards, and perhaps more so their families, have difficult days ahead. Regardless of the outcome of their trials, their lives are unlikely to ever be the same.

When the story of Edwards’ arrest was published, we received feedback from readers that would indicate we had somehow rushed to judgment regarding his guilt or innocence. In a letter to the editor published in the edition immediately following the story about his arrest, (“Article on Edwards appears to be misleading,” Feb. 14, 2014), letter writers Glenn and Lynda Updike included statements including “It seemed like he was being tarred and feathered,” “The article assumed he was guilty before all the facts are known” and “All the facts should be known, both by the newspaper, the community and the county, before they come to the conclusion of guilt.”

Several visitors to our website who posted comments of their own were mostly in agreement with the Updikes’ position. Yet, having revisited the article several times, I still fail to see where any assumptions were made, let alone a statement indicating his guilt. I have asked for them to clarify their position and point to specific lines in the story that would back up their argument. To date, I have not received a reply.

Conversely, since the story of Ashburn’s arrest was published, no such public outcry against a rush to judgment has been made. In fact, the majority of comments posted on our website regarding the story of her arrest have included outright condemnations of her, as well as the Franklin Police Department for not having prevented the crime of which she is accused. No one wrote in to suggest we not write a story about her arrest until all the facts are known. Not one individual has charged us of tarring and feathering the accused.

The truth is that neither story published in this paper included any assumptions of guilt; both merely stated the facts made known to us by law enforcement officers and people close to the accused.

It is entirely customary for local newspapers, at least for those that are doing their jobs, to report on the arrests of those in the community, especially those who have been with charged on suspicion of a violent crime, regardless of what part of town they are from or what their standing is in the community. We will continue to do so, even at the risk of causing selective outrage among our readers.

TONY CLARK is the publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be contacted at 562-3187 or