One of the journalistic discussions in our newsroom last week was fodder for ethics discussions and I hope you will give it your thoughts.
The story is about the prosecution of Pat O’Malley. He was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, assault on a police officer, obstructing official business and resisting arrest. O’Malley is a longtime public figure in Northeast Ohio, having been elected to the Cleveland City Council and Cuyahoga County Recorder.
With a history of physical altercations and arrests, he is no stranger to our news platforms. His career as a public servant ended in 2008, when he pleaded guilty to obscenity charges and was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. Earlier that year, we revealed how he filled dozens of positions in the Registrar’s Office with support.
He’s also the brother of current Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley, who effectively recused himself from the latest case.
This case involves some type of mental health issue. That’s why the police were called to the house, a “mental health crisis.” Unfortunately, many calls to the police these days involve mental health breakdowns, which has led to much debate in recent years about the proper way to handle them.
People dealing with emotional trauma are often labeled as criminals, but as a society, we are working hard to address underlying mental health issues instead of punishing people for them. That’s one reason Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish created the diversion center for mentally ill or drug-addicted inmates. He wants to get them the help they need instead of putting them in jail.
From a newsroom perspective, we generally don’t report on people with mental health issues unless their behavior warrants attention. If someone with threatening behavior stops downtown Cleveland, readers expect us to explain why they stopped downtown.
What happened at Pat O’Malley’s house did not rise to that level, but for other reasons we felt obliged to report the allegations against him.
One is a longtime public figure in Northeast Ohio, who has repeatedly asked for your vote and who police have now charged with a series of crimes. That meets the definition of long-term news.
Another is transparency and accountability. He is the brother of the current prosecutor and the founder of the once powerful Parma political machine. We think the people should know that they are being treated differently. This is unlikely.
I’ve heard some comments that we shouldn’t report on an obvious mental health issue, but I disagree. To me, this was clearly news worth reporting.
But we are here to serve you. We’re interested in hearing your thoughts on whether this is news. Our industry is always growing, and we prefer to stand on tradition for tradition’s sake. We always try to ask ourselves why we do the things we do. We ask you too.
Please email me email@example.com If you want to share your position.
Thanks for reading.