Shooting gives insight into how vital editors' choices can be

Staff writerApril 12, 2013 

Editor's note: This editorial was originally published on April 27, 2003.

Editors choose.

Mostly that means choosing which stories to put in the paper.

Sometimes it's about choosing which stories not to print. Dave and Crystal Brame's divorce was one we decided not to print.

Sources tipped us to the story two weeks ago. We found the court file in King County and examined all the documents. Then the reporter and several editors sat down to talk about what we knew and whether it was time for a story.

Crystal Brame had filed for divorce. She asked for and was granted a restraining order that stopped either of them from altering or selling any assets, gave her primary custody of the children and forbade either of them from taking the children out of state.

She provided a "supplemental declaration" in the case on March 26, swearing (on penalty of perjury) that he had choked her on several occasions and had pointed his "service weapon" at her and told her "accidents happen." She noted there were no witnesses to these events nor was there corroborating evidence.

In an answer to that declaration Dave Brame said his wife was the aggressor, that he was a victim of domestic violence, and that he had photos to prove it.

In her supplemental declaration Crystal Brame said she had not originally asked for a protective order against him, because she was afraid of his reaction, but felt that she now needed one.

There is no record of the court granting a protective order. She might have received one at a hearing scheduled for April 10, but that hearing was moved to a later date.

So what we had was a divorce petition and counterclaims stating the other spouse was abusive, with no independent proof on either side.

One option was to print the story. Hey, he's the police chief. True or not when he's accused of something we had every right to print it. We had equal right to print everything he said about his wife. In a broader media culture addicted to the flimsiest dirt on today's chosen celebrity, politician or public official, why not smear them both?

We decided not to.

Both their allegations were serious. But neither had filed a police complaint. Or asked for a protective order. Or offered any but gossamer proof.

We chose to look for further evidence before running a story. We told the chief we knew about the divorce filing and the allegations and repeatedly asked for an interview. He never granted one.

We determined we would run a story should either file a police complaint or get a protective order against the other. We also began independently checking on the allegations, but had turned up nothing substantial. Friday everything changed.

That morning the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on Page 1 that Crystal Brame obtained a temporary restraining order against her husband, accusing him of pointing his weapon at her and choking her. TV and radio picked up the story and ran with it. Once the story had broken, we ran our own version Saturday on B1. For 24 hours their divorce was the subject of a media mini-frenzy.

It turns out there was no restraining order against Dave Brame connected to any allegations about violence. (There was that different order restraining either party from selling off assets or taking the children.) There were only Crystal's allegations of violence, offered without proof or corroboration.

Would the allegations have been worth Page 1 play on their own? Would TV and radio have so willingly, breathlessly and repeatedly trumpeted the allegations without the accompanying protective order?

It would be ridiculous to say the P-I caused Saturday's shooting and suicide in Gig Harbor. We could as easily take the blame for a tough editorial demanding an investigation of Brame by the city manager.

What happened yesterday was Dave Brame's choice.

But it also highlights the choices editors and reporters at both newspapers made. And how important they can be.

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