Tuesday, September 24, 2002


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s ombudsman, Mike King, writes that it’s time to leave Eunice Stone alone.

Stone ... reported to police last week that she overheard three men -- whom she described as Middle Eastern -- at a restaurant in Calhoun discussing what seemed like a plan to plant a bomb in Miami on Sept. 13. Her tip sent federal and state homeland security officials scurrying through two states before shutting down a busy stretch of I-75 known as Alligator Alley when they pulled over a car matching the one Stone had described.

It turned out there was no bomb or threat. It was either a misunderstanding on her part or a massively dumb hoax played by three medical students on their way to Florida.

King goes on to report that:

a few TV commentators ... assume she "profiled" the Arab-American men she overheard. Media crews hovered around her for days, so much so that by Monday night she sought emergency treatment for what she thought might be a heart attack.

She probably never expected her actions to generate such scrutiny and suspicion. Her telephone answering machine in Cartersville filled up five times over, her lawyer said. She heard and read reports of accusations that she made up the story. At one point she felt it necessary to hold a news conference to declare she was not a racist.

Then her lawyer said something that every editor should consider when covering a story such as this: "She doesn't understand why this story isn't over."

King says bluntly:

unless someone has some evidence that she lied to police, the story is over.

Note to assignment editors: Leave her alone.

I agree. The treatment Stone has been receiving at the hands of the media will work to dissuade others from reporting suspicious behavior. And when it comes to combating international terrorism that could have disastrous consequences.

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