Wick Communications

Lady with a pipe bomb

In Writing on 23 Jul 2010 at 8:36 am

If a transgendered woman fakes an attempt to blow up her own home and is then nabbed running nude down a state highway carrying what looks to be a pipe bomb, you have a story. That much is obvious.

But is the fact that she is transgendered really part of the story? That is a good question and one I think the Argus Observer answered rather admirably over the last couple weeks.

Police in Payette, Idaho, charged 52-year-old Catherine Carlson with first degree arson and using a hoax destructive device – a new law that only went into effect on July 1 and could add 15 years to her eventual sentence – following a July 11 fire in the town.

As you can imagine, the fire, the arrest, the suspect have all caused a bit of a stir on the Oregon-Idaho border.

The initial story, written by Argus-Observer editor Larry Hurle, included this line buried deep in the story:

Clark said the female was Catherine Carlson, a transgender female who underwent a sex change operation in 1980.

A day-after story included this nugget: …

Clark said Carlson admitted she created the bomb threat to draw attention to her plight of not being recognized as a woman by the state or government officials. In 2007, Carlson received a citation, but it used her male name, which she said was no longer her legal name.

I think that admission justifies the inclusion of her gender. Police are saying it’s germane to the case. The third story doesn’t mention gender at all, because it’s not relevant to the new law.

I think that is pretty deft handling of what could have been a sensationalized story. I also realize others may have a different opinion. What do you think?

The comments on the story, predictably, shot off the rails. I do think the newspaper might have done a better job policing that activity. Keep in mind, Carlson is innocent until proven otherwise. And it’s a sensitive topic sure to upset some. I would have kept a tighter lid on that.



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