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Issue Date:  December 10, 2004

From the Editor's Desk

In the line of duty

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that Patrick O’Neill, who wrote the coverage in this issue of the SOA Watch protest (see story), was arrested while on duty. No, it wasn’t for protesting or crossing any lines. It was for “simple battery” against a police officer.

Sounds serious, but after hearing from O’Neill and others at the event, it also seems a mistake. O’Neill, you have to understand, is a very busy and experienced freelance journalist. He’s got to stay busy supporting a wife and seven children (soon, he informed me, to be eight). In addition to being busy, he’s enthusiastic enough about NCR to have volunteered to take back copies of the paper as well as subscription offers to hawk at the SOA event. That’s how he came to be carrying a heavy box of NCRs and a table when he was approached by a police officer who told him he had to move. He did, he said, without incident. But 10 minutes later, said O’Neill, he was stopped at another location and arrested and was told the officer complained that he had been shoved by O’Neill.

A number of witnesses, we’re told, said O’Neill did nothing of the sort. As of this writing, I haven’t seen a police report, I’ve only heard about the incident. We’ll have to await his court date, and we’ll let you know the outcome.

~ ~ ~

The report of the incident reminded me of a similar case in my early reporting days. I was covering what turned out to be a fatal fire at a home in the jurisdiction of a police chief whom I had had occasion to report on earlier. In investigating some of his business activities in the municipality, it became clear that he had lied on some affidavits.

He didn’t like me much. And when he saw me standing there with other reporters covering the fire, he came over, singled me out, and said I had to leave or he was going to arrest me.

I called my editor and told him of the ultimatum. My editor wasn’t at all sympathetic. He told me to go back and stand with the other reporters and essentially dare him to arrest me -- it would be a hell of a story.

So I returned, got threatened with arrest again, but nothing more ever came of it, except that the police chief would regularly have his guys tailgate me whenever I drove through the town. This job can get a little weird around the edges.

~ ~ ~

At NCR, however, the job is mostly rewarding and exhilarating, and that was certainly the case the night Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister came to dinner and laid out a mandate for the paper as bold and essential as any I’ve seen.

Chittister was the main speaker at a Washington dinner celebrating NCR’s 40th birthday. People in the news business get nervous revisiting their own history; we are keenly aware that there is nothing so stale as yesterday’s headlines, particularly in the breathless world of the Internet and 24/7 news channels. As anyone might have guessed, Chittister had little time for nostalgia. So she pushed ahead, framing in the Beatitudes a charge not only for NCR, but also for the church and for the culture at large (see story).

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, December 10, 2004

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