Hero? Goat? Elephant? Often, it takes time to know for sure

Read it in the Daily Herald

If you’re trying to assess news stories involving, say, Charles Joseph Gliniewicz, Patrick Kane or Robert Breuder ‐‐ or, for that matter, the political candidacies of Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or any of the other dozen and a half people running for president, the newspaper and other mass media can help. But with all such stories, it helps to keep in mind the famous parable of six blind Indians trying to describe an elephant, each based on the portion of the beast he happened to touch.

The result, in the whimsical recounting of American poet John Godfrey Saxe: ” … each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong!” With the news cycle, the expression of this fable isn’t so much in the varied number of voices reporting information as it is in the various points of time at which information is reported.

But the admonition is the same: Be careful about making judgments until you have all the information. The most prominent immediate object lesson for this axiom Jim Slusher  is the Gliniewicz case.

By now, we’ve all wrung our hands raw over the fact that the original impression of the Fox Lake police lieutenant as the heroic community servant was flawed. But it may be equally disturbing to consider the impression that has replaced it, of the sex‐crazed, vainglorious embezzler. Was he either of these things, the hero or the goat? Was he both?

The one thing he was for sure was human, and that is a much more complex portrait to paint than is likely to come from any one‐day news story, tweet or social media post.

It’s complicated further for “GI Joe” Gliniewicz because he’s no longer around to explain his behaviors. That he was appropriating money from the Explorers group he oversaw seems hard to dispute, but much remains in question.

Was his intent really criminal? Did he intend to pay some or all of it back? Did he feel deep remorse, as well as the obvious shame, over what he was doing? Was he really planning “a hit” on the village manager or just idly fantasizing in text with a friend? Maybe yes; maybe no. I am a harsh opponent of conducting serious business or social conversations via email or text because hastily written words are so easily distorted or misinterpreted. Pillorying a man based solely on the limited evidence of his texts and emails surely should attract at least as much skepticism.

None of this is meant to whitewash Gliniewicz’ behavior. But it is meant to caution readers, viewers and sharers of the news that there is always more to every story than what its limited number of words can portray. When Gliniewicz died, we reported from all the angles we could conceive and this produced a certain picture. Since the press conference describing a very different picture, we have continued to report on whatever we can that helps people better understand the situation.

No doubt, in the days, weeks and perhaps months to come, we will continue to collect more and deeper information, all of which will produce an ever more detailed picture of who Gliniewicz was and whatever he may have done.

Conscientious readers will keep this in mind also as they consider everything from Patrick Kane’s drinking habits to Ben Carson’s college application. All these things are legitimate news stories when they appear, but rarely does a complex story play out in a single telling. It is wise, in short, to remember that there is more to an elephant than the first, second or third description you hear.

Just know that we will keep describing the animal until all questions are answered and the clearest possible picture appears.

Jim Slusher, [email protected], is assistant managing editor for opinion at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/jim.slusher1 and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.