Larry Platt: How do we report about our own?

Posted: December 21, 2011

I HAVE BEEN a journalist for more than a quarter century, and I have never had a professional experience that was sadder - or more shocking - than reading the allegations leveled against Bill Conlin yesterday.

As detailed by the Inquirer's Nancy Phillips, four people have accused Conlin, a fixture of the Daily News for the last 46 years, of sexually molesting them as young children.

Phillips' piece ran on philly.com yesterday afternoon and is in the Inquirer this morning. We've taken the unusual step of also running it, in its entirety, on the following page, because I felt you deserved to see the allegations in full context.

I first found out the Inquirer was working on a piece about Bill two days ago. I read a draft of the piece yesterday afternoon. It bears repeating all the necessary caveats, of course: at present, these are allegations. Bill has not been proven guilty or even charged with anything.

That said, I have to say the story made my stomach turn. I can't shake the disgust and rage I felt after reading the allegations in the piece, nor can I stop thinking about the victims.

I have known Bill Conlin since 1990, and before that, I knew him as a legendary voice on the page. I simply do not know how to reconcile what I've read with the man I know. I spoke to him yesterday. He offered to retire and I immediately accepted. I knew I'd never be comfortable running his byline again.

For a long time yesterday, we struggled with how to best acknowledge this story without knowing the facts or reporting on it ourselves. It is a strange and sad time in the newsroom, and we will do our best to cover this as if it were any other high-profile figure in Philadelphia. But of course, it is not just another high-profile figure in Philadelphia.

Conlin has been synonymous with this paper for five decades, and to pretend that we know how to approach a story like this is to insult your intelligence. All I can promise you is that we will attempt to be as thorough and fair as we can possibly be - not just to the facts of the story, but also to you, our readers. And that means being as open and transparent as we can be.

Since this is such uncharted territory, I don't know precisely what that will look like. I do know this: This is a tragedy. It's tragic for the victims, for Conlin's family, for the family of the Daily News, but also for the familial relationship we have with our readers. Like me, you've grown up with and trusted Conlin's bellowing voice. Now that trust is compromised by horrific allegations.

When I spoke with my stunned staff yesterday, I found myself uncharacteristically at a loss for words. But then the reporters and editors among us started speaking up. They wanted to report this story. It was, for me, an oddly inspiring moment.

They reminded me: This is what we do. We hold people accountable, and we've done that with everyone from mayors to Jerry Sandusky.

Now we just may have to do it with one of our own.

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