Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wednesday 5-07

The Ron Heilmann investigation controversy is one of those journalism ethics quandries we sometimes have to wrestle with here in the newsroom. I'm sure many of you are wondering why an Eau Claire television station is breaking the story that the Oshkosh School Board conducted an investigation into Heilmann's conduct--instead of WOSH or some other local news source. Today I will try to answer your questions.

Let's start with what we knew. Did we know that allegations had been leveled against Dr Heilmann? Yes. Did we know the nature of the allegations? Yes. Did we know that the school board discussed the allegations in closed session back in March? Yes. Did we know that the school board got the results of the investigation that same month and found there was no basis to the allegations? Yes.

So why then did we not do a story? Well here's what we did not know: Who was the person leveling the allegations? We never got a straight answer on that from any of our sources. What were the details of the allegations? Those varied depending upon who you talked to--and that sends up a red flag, as wildly different stories on what may have happened lead you to believe this is rumor and not fact. And since the nobody was able to tell us the source of the original allegation, it's a bit difficult to get the correct story. Add to that the fact that not a single person wanted to go on the record or be quoted for a possible story and you are left with no ethical legs to stand on.

The Eau Claire TV story itself contains little in the way of actual factual matter on the investigation itself. Their angle was more toward the fact that the Eau Claire school board was not aware of the investigation while it was interviewing Heilmann for Superintendent--and that Oshkosh School Boardmembers didn't say anything about it either.

There are some who will claim that the local media was trying to cover up for Heilmann--keeping a possibly embarrassing story out of the public eye. I can assure you that was not the case here in the WOSH newsroom. We have more than a few awards hanging on the wall for stories that did more than just embarrass local officials. I had a similar situation come up while I was working in the Marinette-Menominee area--an accusation leveled by students against a superintendent. In that case, I did go with the story--as the two girls claiming the Menominee Superintendent was verbally and physically abusive toward them made their accusations just inches away from my microphone during the Public Comment session of the School Board meeting. In that case the board found no grounds for the accusations and cleared the superintendent--who left for another job a few months later. But there we had people willing to go on the record with their accusations and the alleged details--not just whispers and innuendo that are the grist mill for the tabloids and the blogs.



  1. "And since the nobody was able to tell us the source of the original allegation, it's a bit difficult to get the correct story."

    Reminds me of Stew Rieckman at the Northwestern and his refusal to talk about his accusation that the city council acted illegally in voting Bryan Bain as deputy mayor.

    Jonathan, I am glad to see WOSH has a high journalistic ethics standard. I wish the same could be said of the executive editor of the Northwestern.

  2. Your reasoning for not breaking the story is far better than OASD's for not telling anyone. It is possible to let people know what is going on and reassure them that it was a mistake without revealing the name of the alleged victim or embarassing Dr. Heilmann.

    I think the results of the "no comment" attitude the BOE took has done for more damage to Dr. Heilmann's reputation than giving us the facts would have.

  3. And what are the facts? What did the board do in the way of an investigation? Did they interview the super? How about the student involved? Did they go to the destination in question and interview the hotel manager?

    I really wonder what was done in the way of "investigation". It looks more like a "CYA" scenario to me.

  4. How would we accomplish that 3:46? And to your questions 5:09, do you even know for sure there was a student? Or was it just a concocted rumor to drag a man's name through the muck?

  5. May 6 Heilmann told News 18 that he had spoken to the parents of the student.

    So much for conspiracy theories. Heilmann said there was a student.

  6. The existence of a student does not a guilty man make. There's plenty of reason to suspect the alleged victim and the press-happy leakers than a man who's done nothing but serve community after community throughout his professional life.

  7. I didn't say it did. Whether a child was actually involved or not and who mentioned it forst was used as "evidence" against someone else. I think both persons are too often targets.

    I have read all the posts I could find and cannot find anything to substantiate anything against either. Of course, saying that opens me up to the typical, "well, if you can't see it, there is no point explaining further, you're just dumb for not hating her too."

    What an intelligent argument that is (note: extreme sarcasm).

  8. Suspect the alleged victim, 6:52? I sincerely hope this isn't one of those blame the victim arguments because you happen to support the accused. How shameful.

    It is more likely that the alleged victim or someone close to them wanted more justice than an unqualified school board conducting an investigation. Not to mention, a victim is more likely to call the police if they are willing to subject themselves to the blame the victim crowd who would question their family's finances and what the victim was wearing.

    What about teachers who knew the alleged victim? They would be more likely to contact someone inside the district like the law firm, especially if they feared being implicated.

    No, better to blame someone there is no proof of being the leak and/or the alleged victim.

  9. Time to face facts. Whether you approve of the investigation or not, one was completed and the rumor/allegation was found to have no merit. Common sense tells us if there was a "victim" and said victim was telling the truth, said victim or said victim's family would be unhappy with the decision of the school board and would take it immediately to a higher authority, one that could investigate on a criminal basis. But we all know that didn't happen. What did happen was several weeks later, after the "accused" was given a position in another city, some troublemaker here contacted select media in the other city. Highly suspicious and obviously I'm not the only one thinking it. The leak can only be blamed on a few people because only a few people had ALL the information surrounding the investigation.