Unfortunately, we've now reached the point where apologies are due for the behavior of the media in reporting the case of the State v Kelley Williams Bolar.
And apologies are sorely needed.
If you've been following the case of The State v Kelley Williams Bolar then you are aware of opinion, emotion and tears. Only some of the facts. Problem is, the opinion leaders are absolutely clueless when it comes to -- as Paul Harvey used to say -- the rest of the story. There's no putting that genie back in that bottle.
And that's on us.
Somehow missing from all the national reporting is the more complete version of the remarkable lengths the Copley-Fairlawn School District went to in trying to avoid bringing this to trial. After all, it was the taxpayers of Copley-Fairlawn paying the freight for her attempts to game the system. The district is charged with seeking out abuse and fraud. They did their job.
Months of working to get a resolution stretching into years, parent after parent after parent doing the right thing and working to appeal or resolve the issue instead of compounding lie after lie after lie after lie. After all, it's the prosecutor which must enforce the law. They did so with compassion and allowed the dozens of other families to do the right thing without the weight of the law about their shoulders. They did their job.
The opportunities presented to Kelley Williams Bolar to not only resolve the issue at little or no cost but to do the right thing by her employer, the Akron School Board, which suffered by losing the state funds they should have received from enrollment of the children. That Williams Bolar not only broke the law by lying time and time again should play a part in determining if she's fit to teach Akron's children. At the very least, it deserves a serious debate and not automatic calls for clemency before the full and unvarnished truth comes out. The Akron district should be outraged one of their own, a colleague, falsified statements time and time and time again and ultimately cost Akron the state support it would have had through rightful enrollment under the rules everyone else must follow. That's their job.
Missing somehow from the media record are the records where school lunches were approved by Copley-Fairlawn based on false income statements which didn't include the child support or even Williams Bolar's Akron public schools employment?
There should be outrage from those serving our country when learning that the response to one of many letters delivered to Williams Bolar was that she was not available because she was "deployed"; not only lying on court documents, sworn statements and multiple interviews but even invoking the image of military service to dodge the issue.
How about the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, told repeatedly in sworn statements that Williams Bolar and her children were qualified to live in public housing, a three-bedroom home and including utilities, for less than $130 a month? This at the same time Williams Bolar was switching her drivers license, registering to vote and attesting to her residence in documents to Copley-Fairlawn? Is Akron so flush with affordable housing that there were no other families deserving of the opportunity to share in the helping hand AMHA offers those in need?
What about the fact that dozens of parents, many of them minority parents (added here because supporters of Williams Bolar are themselves playing the race card now) were caught in a similar situation but did the right thing by appealing the residency ruling, paying tuition or withdrawing their children to the proper schools? Should they argue they settled too early, that stacking lies atop each other would have been rewarded in the end with national publicity and fundraising efforts on their behalf?
This case has become a referendum on the safety of Akron's neighborhoods and, unfortunately, the quality of an Akron education because Williams Bolar says she wanted a better environment for her daughters. In the process, her supporters have twisted this case into a battle cry that a mother was just looking for a better education for her children. In the process, a nation now thinks the Akron education is worth so little that even a mother who works for the school district would lie, cheat and steal to get her daughters to another district.
Wrong after wrong after wrong shouldn't make a right.
It has risen to this level of a national outcry because we in the media didn't do a good enough job of reporting the case. That's especially true in viewing the preponderance of reporting from television networks and programs and even the New York Times all based on the incomplete coverage provided by us locally, including the only media outlet to properly staff the trial -- the Akron Beacon Journal.
The opinions formed by ignorant talking heads now weighing in on this case -- from cable to network television and radio to national newspapers -- rely on a single source of information, one where apparently the facts didn't get in the way of a good story. That's just plain poor journalism.
That's on us in the media, and a sad reminder of what we do with the public trust depends on us doing our job to report honestly, faithfully and comprehensively on our communities. It's a reminder that extra sets of eyes and ears on a story help, not hinder, public understanding of the debate. Here's a case where more reporters in the room would have helped provide context and additional views.
Eyewitness testimony is often called the least reliable; one source reporting going viral is no different. The problem today is the far-away pundits have little interest in confirming facts; their interest is talking points, not truth.
When the case files are made fully available, we all owe it to you to post these documents, reports and testimony online and in a complete fashion for you to draw an educated conclusion.
Unfortunately, the folks at Fox, CNN, ABC, CBS, Rev. Sharpton, Change.org and the rest of the gang will have moved on by then to another story of a troubled homeless man with a golden voice, a publicity-desperate father willing to pretend his son was afloat in a balloon floating in the skies toward the Rockies, or a woman who fell into a fountain while using her cell phone crying foul only to be revealed as a criminal with a penchant for lawsuits. What used to provoke shame and embarrassment now provides ratings and entertainment.
They never learn as long as we continue to reward them to feed us wild opinion based on unreliable news. We are all hurt while our sources of information -- both traditional and new -- suffer from lower standards not because of rivals in the business but because of the lack of competition in the news marketplace.
Prior post on this subject: The Excess Isn't In Prosecuting Wrongdoing