It took two months, but The Maui News finally ran a story (without a byline, of course) on Feb. 13 on the Hawaii Supreme Court exonerating MauiTime Publisher Tommy Russo. As Civil Beat columnist Brett Oppegaard noted the day before, in a Feb. 12 story, Russo made headlines across Hawaii back in 2012 when two Maui Police Officers arrested him while he was photographing them on the side of Haleakala Highway.
“Other media sources in the state, including Maui’s daily newspaper, The Maui News, as well as Maui Now and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, rushed to report about the arrest, using Russo’s police mugshot, and even unchallenged verbiage provided by officers involved in the case, including what turned out to be misleading statements,” Oppegaard wrote.
But then years went by. The case dragged through the court. Appeals begat appeals. The media lost interest. So by the time Russo won a complete vindication, hardly anyone in Hawaii reported on it–from a media standpoint, this is a profound injustice.
“When Russo finally was cleared of all wrongdoing by the Hawaii Supreme Court in December–five years later–only his publication (MauiTime) and Civil Beat’s Chad Blair covered the big win for the First Amendment in similarly splashy fashion. KITV did have a short story about the Supreme Court case beginning (but not how it turned out),” Oppegaard wrote.
This happens all the time in the media, which is why Oppegaard–a media critic–wrote about it. And he even got Maui News Managing Editor Lee Imada to explain why his paper had reported on Russo’s arrest, trial and appeals, but hadn’t informed its readers of his ultimate exoneration.
“I know this is important to [Russo], but a lot of court cases are sort of marginal,” Imada says in Oppegaard’s column. “Sometimes, they can get lost. It’s not done intentionally. Because our staff is so small, we try to focus on stories that touch the pulse of our community. That’s just the realities of the newspaper these days.”
Look, I’m glad The Maui News finally got around to reporting that the case against Russo has finally been dismissed, but come on–all news organizations in the U.S. have faced cuts in the last few years. And the whole point of putting an arrest on the front page in the first place is to show “the community” that it’s not a “marginal” case.
But whatever. The important thing is that The Maui News finally did what they should have done two months ago–even if it took a smackdown from Civil Beat to prod them into doing it.
Photo of Tommy Russo courtesy MauiTime