‘What makes this newsworthy?’
Published 8:09 pm Saturday, June 22, 2013
Every time we run a story about Raleigh Isaacs Jr., we get flooded with online messages, emails, phone calls and even visits, so I knew what was coming when we published Saturday’s story about Isaacs’ recent assault charges being dismissed in Suffolk General District Court because the victim failed to appear for the trial.
Isaacs has appeared in the paper several times in the past. His history with Suffolk law enforcement includes four charges of driving under the influence of alcohol since March 2006, all of which have been reduced, dismissed or not prosecuted. He has served jail time for some of the reduced charges, and he had his license suspended for a year after the most recent incident in August 2011, for which he was found guilty of refusing to take a blood or breath test.
None of those charges is especially newsworthy on its own. But Isaacs is the adult son of Suffolk Sheriff Raleigh Isaacs Sr. Whether the younger Isaacs had been convicted of all the charges against him or was fortunate enough to have them dismissed, reduced or not prosecuted, the relationship is what has made his legal troubles newsworthy. A reasonable argument could be made that the lack of convictions on original charges makes those legal troubles even more newsworthy.
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Judging by the responses we have received on our stories about the younger Isaacs in the past, it’s safe to say few people have a weak opinion about them. Some folks worry about the appearance created by the man’s generally positive courtroom fortunes. Others cry foul over the choice we’ve made to point out the relationship between Isaacs and his public-figure father in each of the stories we’ve written about the younger man.
But if Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli had an adult son who was charged with a crime, folks would want to know. If U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had an adult daughter arrested for some offense, people would expect to see something in the newspaper. If those theoretical cases were continually dismissed or otherwise adjudicated to the benefit of the defendants, people would expect to be informed, and they’d expect to be informed because of the family connections.
So it is with Raleigh Isaacs Jr.
Some folks wondered on Saturday why his story merited the placement it received on the front page. The decision came down to two things, really: We wanted to give the dismissal similar play to what his arrest had received, and there was an unfortunate shortage of other “hard” news to take the spot. With another hard story, perhaps the Isaacs headline would have been smaller, but it still would have appeared at the top of the page, much as the story about his arrest had.
That should answer the online commenter who claimed that the story’s play had something to do with an alleged bias on the part of news editor Tracy Agnew.
With Raleigh Isaacs Sr. running against opposition this year for sheriff and Tracy likely to cover the race, I take such an accusation very seriously. However I have seen absolutely no actual evidence of such a bias, and the commenter presented none.
As we move into our election coverage this summer, you can be sure both the younger and elder Isaacs men will be treated fairly in this newspaper. But that doesn’t mean we will shy away from covering the news, no matter how much some folks might like us to ignore it.