Lazy or Just Stupid, Part II

Once again our media correspondents give vastly different and conflicting information regarding the same story.

A Brampton high-school teacher has been charged with various sex-related criminal charges—two counts of sexual exploitation, one count of Internet luring of a child and one count of sexual assault (touching).

Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe & Mail, prints an account with the following details:

…the charges were laid after a relative of the boy glimpsed the text of a sexually explicit message on the screen of his home computer, said Detective Sergeant Greg Knapton of the Peel Regional Police special victims unit.

The sexual assault charge was laid after the boy subsequently told police that on one occasion, on school property, Ms. Calautti had lightly caressed him in his genital area…

Police believe the relationship dates back to the beginning of October, based on what were described as two lengthy and explicit e-mail exchanges in which sex acts were allegedly discussed….

Det. Sgt. Knapton agreed the charges are unusual, but rejected any suggestion that because the accused is female and the alleged victim male, the consequences are not serious.

“I can tell you we totally disagree with that,” he said. “I’ve seen enough of the aftermath and the counselling that’s required.”

The 16-year-old is “confused” by what happened, Det. Sgt. Knapton said.

— Timothy Appleby, “Teacher faces sex charges“. Globe & Mail, November 16th, 2007, 0507 ET.

Sounds serious enough, no?  Now read some excerpts from the Toronto Star‘s account:

A Brampton high school student is outraged with Peel police for charging his teacher with allegedly committing sex-related offences against him, insisting all she did was help him get over an emotional breakup with his girlfriend.

The 16-year-old teen yesterday denied having any sexual or romantic relationship with his 35-year-old teacher but admitted he sought advice from her during online MSN Internet chats after his girlfriend dumped him.

“She did nothing wrong. She helped me get over my ex-girlfriend,” said the Grade 11 student, who can’t be named. “She did nothing to me. All we did was talk. Our conversations weren’t sexually explicit.

“She never touched me. Police have taken this way, way too far. When they told me she was going to be charged, I was speechless.”

His teacher, Dina Calautti, a married woman with a young child, has been suspended with pay from Notre Dame Secondary School where she has been teaching since 2000…

It is not known who filed the complaint against her [Mrs. Calautti]…

The alleged victim said he understood that talking online with his teacher about his personal problems was wrong but he never expected any criminal charges to result. He admitted he liked her but just as a friend and never thought she had any interest in him other than wanting to help him.

“We talked maybe for five minutes on MSN at a time. … We talked about personal stuff but nothing sexual. I probably shouldn’t have text messaged her but I was going through a rough time,” said the teen, who has known the accused woman since Grade 9. “I needed help and she was the only person there to listen to me.

“She was. She is an amazing teacher.”

— Bob Mitchell, “Teen denies teacher sex charges“. Toronto Star, November 16th, 2007, 0430 ET.

These stories are filed within a half-hour of each other.   Both refer to “Ms.” Calautti, who is acknowledged to be married in both stories.  Which would make her a “Mrs.” Calautti, you’d think.  Or at least that’s how I referred to married female teachers in my youth.  I understand the lexicon has been broadened now, so as to render any descriptive title useless.

The Globe says a relative saw explicit conversation.  The Star says they don’t know who filed the complaint.

The Globe says the lad told police she touched him in the genital area.  The Star quotes the boy himself saying that’s not true.

The Globe quotes the police saying the teen is “confused”.  If we’re to believe the Star, he’s actually fuming mad.  He also denies any sort of sexual content to the conversations, so it ought to be interesting to see what sort of evidence is introduced.

Maybe Timothy Appleby and Bob Mitchell are highly talented neurosurgeons that merely moonlight as reporters for various national outlets.  In that case, I can understand their inability to focus on trivial journalistic details when they’re trying to save lives through risky, faint-hope experimental surgeries.

But more likely than not, gumshoe reporter is their day job, and they are rushing crap into print without bothering to collect all of the salient data.  Somebody—a reporter or a kid—doesn’t have their facts straight.

You’d think that maybe that in itself would be worth investigating, a little.

UPDATE: Welcome SDA readers!  Particularly commenter “A“, who says:

This is such a non-story — “Different reporters have different sources!” Big deal!

I beg to differ.  The two stories share the exact same sources — Detective Sergeant Greg Knapton of Peel’s SVU, and Bruce Campbell from the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board.  The Star talked to the actual victim, whereas the Globe did not.  But the other two sources are the same.

Given that both papers talked to the same guys (presumably at the same press briefing), don’t you find it interesting that there’s such a disparity in the facts presented to us? Even if the kid didn’t know who ratted him out, the police certainly do.  The Star‘s reporter shares the same police source as the Globe, but makes no mention of a relative seeing the correspondence.

Which means, as the title implies, that one of these reporters is either lazy or stupid.

UPDATE 090739Z JULY 2009: Dina Calautti received a conditional discharge after pleading guilty to internet luring.  The Toronto Star has the best account:

She left court emotionally devastated, but without a criminal record.

But Dina Calautti’s career as a teacher remains in jeopardy despite receiving a conditional discharge for what a judge described as “an error in judgment” by continuing Internet communication with a lovestruck high school student.

Calautti was placed on 12 months’ probation and ordered to get counselling. She is also prohibited from communicating with the victim.

The 16-year-old boy initiated the online contact and Calautti ended it after a week.

But by then the damage in the eyes of police and the law was done.

…In the facts previously read into court, the teen, whose identity is protected, started their communication because he was depressed over breaking up with his girlfriend.

By the time she was arrested on Nov. 13, 2007, the boy had romantic feelings for Calautti, though there was no evidence she had any for him, court heard.

They never met outside school and she ended their online chats once she realized she was in dangerous territory as a teacher.

The teen and his family are supportive of Calautti, court heard.

…At the time of her arrest, Peel Police also charged Calautti with sexual assault and two counts of sexual exploitation. Those charges were withdrawn.

— Bob Mitchell.  “Teacher avoids jail for Web chat“, Toronto Star, January 16th, 2009.

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10 Responses
  1. Robert Quinn says:

    Appalling.

  2. philanthropist says:

    I prefer non-fiction, that’s why I don’t buy The Star or The Globe.
    .

  3. teddy says:

    Why is no media group intelligent enough to see the humungous gap in the current news-info marketplace?
    Seems to me any newspaper,radio station,etc.that took pains to supply ALL news items in an honest,balanced,accurate,fact-based,nonagendized,nonpartisan format would be an instant success.
    Or is it simply a sad reality of our current society that the vast majority of consumers no longer wish to face many uncomfortable truths?

  4. I agree that the discrepancy is eyebrow raising. A woman’s career and perhaps her marriage is at stake here.

  5. A says:

    Chris Taylor: Even if the kid didn’t know who ratted him out, the police certainly do.
    Actually, all that was revealed by Det Sgt Knapton was that “a relative of the boy” called police with the complaint. This could be a parent, a sibling, an uncle, a step-cousin twice removed, etc. Insofar as neither the public nor the journalists were informed of who this “relative” was, the statement that “It is not known who filed the complaint against [the suspect]” is factual and consistent with the G&M’s version of events.
    The other two sets of facts that you take issue with are consistent with each other if you consider the fact that different sources underpin them.

  6. Compound Errors

    Chris Taylor’s problem isn’t that he still reads the newspaper. It’s that he reads two.; The Globe says a relative saw explicit conversation. The Star says they don’t know who filed the complaint. The Globe says the lad told police…

  7. Chris Taylor says:

    @A:
    Sure. I guess the Globe is guilty of journalistic malpractice by narrowing it down to a relative, when clearly the right thing to do is make out like nobody knows, as in the Star. Silly me.
    Next time I witness an accident or crime, I’ll be sure to tell the investigators “I don’t know all the details” and volunteer nothing further until I can identify those involved with 100% accuracy.

  8. JM says:

    I don’t know about the G&M, but The Star could probably do a better job when fact gathering:
    http://www.thestar.com/search?&q=“star%20regrets%20the%20error”&r=

  9. A says:

    @Chris Taylor:
    I never privileged one paper’s reporting of the facts as “more correct” than the other’s. My point is, both versions are technically consistent with the facts as presented.
    Hence my confusion that you apparently think you’ve “exposed” something here. What exactly would that be?

  10. Chris Taylor says:

    I think you’re reading rather more into it than i ever would. The only thing I’m uncovering is how two people can interview the same guys and come away with radically different accounts (which you believe are essentially the same).
    I appreciate your defence of these reporters, but as far as the technical consistency goes, I think that’s a push. Where the boy and the police differ, that’s fine and completely understandable. Where they characterise the information given by the same source is a bit of another matter. I’m highlighting the boy vs. police differences in my post, but it’s really all about the framing of the story by these two reporters. Specifically the information they elect to highlight, and the information they elect to bury.
    If the papers are trying to prevent understanding then yes, by a very narrow reading “it was a relative — but who knows which?” can be parsed out to the far more nebulous “it is not known who snitched”. We don’t know a name but we know it’s a relative. That’s not relevant? I’d give more weight to a relative in frequent contact than to a guy at the bus stop who met the kid once five years ago and hasn’t seen or communicated with him since.
    Likewise, citing from the same source, one could parse “caressed his genital area” out to the less salacious touching of a leg. But one gathers a rather different picture of intent from touch vs. caress. Is it “technically” correct? Sure. It is also technically correct to say that the victims of the Boston Strangler expired from lack of oxygen, without ever mentioning the causal agent.
    Given that one paper talked to police, the board, and the boy, at the very least one would expect questions about the inconsistency of the accounts given by police versus the boy?
    At the end of the day, this is a really pointless and frivolous story. It’s not high-stakes international diplomacy. It catches my interest because I happen to have provided electronic evidence for various cases and I can think of a half-dozen questions to ask right off the bat. And they went un-asked, or at least un-reported.
    The really tiresome thing is that one shouldn’t have to read three different accounts, parse them to death, and try to synthesize it into something that makes objective sense. That’s the job of the reporter. If I have to do that myself, what the hell am I paying them for?