Tahlequah Daily Press

December 4, 2013

The blatantly false ring of the old ‘coverup’ allegation

Managing Editor

TAHLEQUAH — The caller did not identify herself, but I recognized her voice. She’d called and left a message before, with the same claim – that I had “suppressed” news about my son’s criminal behavior. This time, though, she mentioned my son by name, and dropped the bombshell that he had done his nefarious deed while in “scouts” – though he was only a Cub Scout for about three months in first grade.

The monologue began with an objection to my devoting last week’s column to nuts, wherein I had complained about the high cost of the seasonal treats. She informed me that I could’ve bought nuts for $3-something a pound at a local store, and added, “So now who’s the nut?” She failed to mention these nuts were mixed; if a nut-nosher wanted a certain kind, I doubt the manager would approve of a customer’s selectively picking over the bin.

“A bunch of us still remember how you covered up what your son did,” she then added. Clearly, she doesn’t know me. If she did, she would know that if my son were charged with a crime, not only would he spend a few nights in jail, he would be reading about it in the paper. My son has always understood my sentiments, and so have various sheriffs and police chiefs over the years.

Many years ago, a couple of high-profile local men held the same view when their teens got into trouble involving a keg of beer and some folks who weren’t yet 21. As the story goes, both fellows left their kids in the hoosegow, with one specifying his offspring was to be mock-sexually harassed by a rather large fellow inmate. Rumor has it that when the father finally showed up, the boy was clinging to the bars of the cell not just with his hands, but also with his feet, bawling like a baby. I don’t recall seeing this young man’s name on any police reports after that time. By the way, neither dad called to ask that we withhold names from print. They knew they need not have bothered, because if we have the name, we’re going to print it. That’s standard operating procedure for a newspaper, be-cause when someone’s charged with a crime, it’s public record. And not a week goes by that we don’t have to remind someone – usually the older parent of a wayward young adult – of that fact.

I’ve been told dozens and dozens of times, by folks asking us to withhold a name from print, that they know of other cases where we’ve done so. Each time, we tell them it’s public record, that they have the same access we do, and if they can show us a “covered-up” document, we’ll gladly print it. We also tell them it wouldn’t be kosher for an agency to deny us an arrest report if we asked for it. Not surprisingly, no one has ever showed up with an actual suppressed report. So it’s either an ages-old, county-wide conspiracy involving countless tight-lipped cops, record clerks, elected officials and legions of journalists, or the rumors have no merit. Take your pick, but if you think the grapevine won’t eventually get ahold of it, you must not be from around these parts.

I’m willing to entertain the idea that the woman has my son confused with someone else, but I suspect she has a kid my son’s age who’s been in trouble and had his name in the paper a few times. Former teachers I talked to, as well as former classmates, couldn’t imagine what the caller might be talking about. One friend asked if someone in authority could have “fixed” a problem without telling me about it, but that makes no sense. Anyone who would take that type of professional risk would want something in return – like money, which I don’t have, or suppression of news about criminal behavior by their own relatives, which I couldn’t do without risking my job.

I finally asked my son if he could recall anything he might have done, however innocuous, to provoke the accusation. All he could come up with was the time in  ninth grade when he and another kid got into a fight on a bus, but they were both suspended. Newspapers don’t normally publish stories about fights at school, unless charges are filed; we don’t have enough reporters, or enough hours in the day or pages in the paper, to do that.

My sister said the only thing she could think of that my son has done wrong is talk too much, a pathology often accompanied by a foot stuffed into a blabbing mouth, or by a vigorous response from someone tired of hearing it blab. But talking too much isn’t  a crime – and if I covered up that information before, the cat’s sure out of the bag now.

I have to give the caller credit, though: She signed off with, “You have a nice day, now.” Emily Post would’ve been proud.

Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.