Just Because It's on Internet, Doesn't Mean It's True

Two sexual harassment stories grabbed headlines, and made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter recently. The "hook" for each story was that small children -- seven and nine-year-old boys -- were suspended from school for sexual harassment; the younger because he kicked a bully in the groin, the elder because he said a teacher was "cute."

Both stories sparked outrage on the right, but they had something else in common. Each was a single-source, uncorroborated piece that told only one side of the story. In each case, the narrative came from the boy's mother. Reporters dutifully recorded that the administration at Brookside Elementary School in Gaston County, North Carolina, would not comment on the "cute" case, nor would officials at Tynan Elementary School in South Boston explain the "groin-kicker" incident.

But journalistic niceties like balance and accuracy did not stop many from touting these as just two more examples of political correctness run amok and of the indoctrination of children by the Left. Not only were the stories posted and circulated online, but they included photographs of the children involved.

I studied journalism in college, but it doesn't take a higher education to know that you need to get more than one side of a story if you hope to understand what happened. These stories were full of red flags.

So, I called Jerry Bostic, the principal at Brookside Elementary on Tuesday, December 6, before he was forced into retirement.  (My editor at PJ Media held this story until now at my request, after we learned of the retirement. I wanted to verify the facts in light of the new information. This seems like common sense, but unfortunately, it's not so common in the realm of journalism.)

I finally spoke to Bostic again on Monday, December 12.

Bostic was forbidden by policy from speaking about the particulars of this incident while on staff. After his hastened retirement, Bostic still protected the privacy of the child, and of his former colleagues, the teachers.

But he said some things that shed light on the situation.

1) Bostic plainly stated that in his 43-year career, "I have never suspended a child for saying anyone was cute."

2) He said that he has suspended middle-school and high-school students for sexual harassment, but those suspensions are 5-days, at least, and often 10 days or more -- serious offenses. The nine-year-old in the "cute" case was suspended for just three days. He served the final day in school.

3)  Bostic had nothing but good things to say about the student who was suspended. "This young man is a fine young man," Bostic said. "We don't have any bad kids at Brookside. He's going to be successful. We're going to work with him and give him the best possible opportunity to do well. ... He's a good young man, successful at this point, and we want that success to continue."

It's clear that something happened here that has not been reported, something more serious than a childish compliment to a woman's beauty. But in his post-retirement interview, Bostic described a scenario that has all the complexity of human interactions, with the added burden of a confidentiality obligation, thus making the story difficult for the traditional media to tell.