Denying the obvious

By Roger Plothow


Why would the Post Register publish a series of stories embarrassing to the Boy Scouts?

After all, the Scouting program does much good in eastern Idaho. Many thousands of boys have been through the program throughout the years, and most of them are better for the experience.

Is it fair to expose the occasional failings of such an organization?

It's not only fair, it's necessary.

The Boy Scouts is a fine organization, but its leaders aren't above making mistakes, nor are they immune from scrutiny.

Parents have a right to know what's happening when they entrust the care of their children to others. The people involved in the various organizations created to protect and enrich our children must be held to account when those organizations fail to meet reasonable standards.

Some like to accuse newspapers of "sensationalism" when they print material of this type. To those so inclined in this instance, we offer this challenge -- read the same documents our reporters read. Talk to the same people our reporters talked to. Then, draw your own conclusions. And, for heaven's sake, read the entire series before doing so.

Critics of the media like to say we pursue stories of this sort "to sell newspapers." Well, we certainly do want to sell newspapers, but that's not the motivation behind the Scouts' Honor series. We know that publishing controversial material will often cost us as many readers as we might gain.

The Post Register's publisher and editorial page editor -- as well as others here -- are Eagle Scouts whose experiences in the program were nothing but positive. But our personal experiences and background do not determine how we cover the news.

When systems put in place to protect children break down, we need to explore why. More important, we need do what it takes to not let it happen again.

Stopping pedophiles requires the active participation of parents, neighbors, churches, schools and law enforcement. A key component in this process is information, and that's where we come in. It's why we've pursued sealed court documents and continue to do so, and it's why we published this series.

But why print stories about something that happened more than seven years ago? Mostly because nearly all of the information we published became available only in the past several weeks after court records were unsealed. And no one had ever traced the series of events that led up to Brad Stowell's arrest.

Armed with this information, parents, victims, potential victims and others charged with protecting children are better able to defend against abuse. The emergence of this information shows why it's important that court records should be sealed only in the rarest of circumstances.

The argument used by scouting executives for sealing court documents -- that they were concerned for "other innocent youth and adults involved in the case" -- just doesn't hold water, as Judge W. H. Woodland's Friday ruling confirms.

The names of minors and innocent adults not central to the case could easily have been withheld without closing off access to all documents. And all mainstream news organizations, including the Post Register, have longstanding policies against naming victims of sex crimes.

The Scouts say nothing like this has happened since Stowell was arrested at Camp Little Lemhi in 1997. There's some comfort in that.

Unfortunately, the Scouting executives' insistence that they did all they could to prevent Stowell's activities, coupled with their attempts to keep secret the details of the incidents leading up to Stowell's arrest, are not at all comforting.

It's abundantly clear that church and Scouting leaders missed numerous opportunities to stop Stowell before he was ultimately brought to justice. If local Scouting executives sincerely believe they couldn't have handled the Brad Stowell situation any better, they're in serious denial.

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