Two Sides To Most Stories: NYT School-Bullying Story Under Fire
This story courtesy of Overlawyered.com: A NYT school-bullying story comes under scrutiny. It concerns a story that recently ran in the New York Times featuring the plight of an Arkansas boy who claimed to have been bullied at school repeatedly, despite the pleas of his family to school officials, over a long period of time. The eventually resorted to legal action. The story, and the boy's subsequent appearance on the Today Show, evoked a great deal of sympathetic reaction.
According to Overlawyered:
The article generated a big reaction, especially after young Wolfe himself appeared on the Today show to discuss his plight. Most observers seemed to agree that the harrowing tale lent credence to the whole idea of using lawsuits as a way of responding to bullying in schoolyards, Facebook, etc. -- an idea that, coincidentally or otherwise, is the subject of an increasingly visible campaign these days. Even as level-headed an educational observer as Joanne Jacobs wrote on her blog, "Normally, I'm anti-lawsuit, but this may be the only way to bully the bullies and the principal to crack down." Huffington Post writer Jonathan Fast cited the article as evidence that schools should adopt "zero tolerance" policies on bullying. Some of the many other blog reactions are assembled here (e.g.: Marcotte, Greenfield, DadTalk, The Common Room).
Unfortunately, it turns out now that the picture painted by the NYT and Today only told one side of the story. Apparently the "poster child" for victims of school-bullying has a history of bullying himself. According to a story in the Northwest Arkansas Times, school and police records document Wolfe's history of bullying other students. One incident was severe enough that police investigated a report that Wolfe had plans to bring a gun to school; no charges were filed. The story also documents this example of Wolfe's alleged past actions:
Dylan Gray smiles as he sits on the couch on a cool spring night and tells a story of a boy at school who likes to call him names, like stupid or retarded. The couch is a nice change from the wheelchair to which his muscular dystrophy normally confines him.
This same boy sneaks up behind Gray and screams in his ear, which is sensitive to noise because of his medical condition. As Gray relates the experience, this next-door neighbor once pounded him in the back of the head several times with a medium-sized rubber ball despite Gray's protest.
The story sounds familiar, perhaps as familiar as the one the national media brought out last week about Billy Wolfe, the Fayetteville High School sophomore who recently filed a lawsuit against a number of students he claims has bullied him. The only difference is that in Gray's story, Wolfe is the bully and Gray is the victim.
Certainly this does not mean that Wolfe himself was not bullied. This does not mean that his allegations and lawsuit are baseless. This does not mean that the school and other defendants in the lawsuit failed to take proper measures to respond to complaints. What it does mean is that the initial story, as reported by the NYT and Today, painted a picture of a victim with no idea why he was singled out by "bullies" and failed to present the other side of the story. It's a sad and unfortunate story all the way around.
Overlawyered.com (April 9, 2008)