Much ado without the news

Let’s face it – the phrase “sex offender” sells.

As journalists, we admit there are certain words that make our ears pique more than others. They are the makings of spicy stories we love to write and you love to read.

We give a good deal of attention to stories that have headlines including words such as “sex” and “offender.”

But when is our attention too much?

Last week, a Kent State graduate student and former teaching assistant became the focus of several media outlets when it was discovered he has a history involving sexually-based offenses.

All this attention was not necessary.

Charles A. Neighorn, 64, is registered as a sexually oriented offender, the lowest level. According to TV-2, which first reported the story on March 22, Neighorn was convicted in 1998 of performing oral sex on a minor in California and was sentenced to six years in prison.

Before we go any further, we’re going to make something crystal-clear. Sexually based offenses are perhaps the most despicable in our society. Those who commit these crimes are sent to prison and labeled as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. Many are still a risk to others when they are let out of prison, hence the strict rules requiring them to let neighbors and others know of their past.

But Neighorn falls into a different category of sex offender.

According to Kent State’s public safety Web site, a sexually oriented offender is someone who was convicted of committing a sexually oriented offense, but was not designated a sexual predator or habitual sex offender.

A sexually oriented offender is required to verify his or her address with local authorities once a year for 10 years, university spokesman Ron Kirksey said. Residents do not need to be notified of his or her presence in an area.

“He hasn’t done anything wrong here,” he said. “He has done everything he’s supposed to.”

He is not considered a risk by the courts or the police, Kirksey said.

A good deal of media attention was given to the story while we were on Spring Break. The Record-Courier, The Plain Dealer, WKYC and others took their turns with the story.

Granted, the Stater ran a story yesterday, ours focusing on student and university reaction to the recent revelation of Neighorn’s past. We felt the need for a story after such attention was already directed at Neighorn.

We’re concerned that this story blew up for no reason other than Neighorn has the phrase “sex offender” attached to his name. If in fact something was happening on campus, then all the rules change. But so far, to our knowledge, Neighorn has done nothing but what he’s supposed to do.

Until a month ago, Neighorn taught a section of Introduction to Human Communication, an entry-level LER course in the School of Communication Studies. He was reassigned to another job in early March for performance reasons not related to his prior conviction, Kirksey said.

Neighorn did his time in prison and apparently moved to get a master’s degree at Kent State. Nothing wrong there, and not much news.

Must such ado be made every time Neighorn is to relocate in the future?

It may make many students uncomfortable that Neighorn has an undesirable past. But it is his right to continue on with his life if it is deemed he is not of any risk to others.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.