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February 16, 2011

Learning to Apologize

Norman M. Covert

Having the right of way doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply the brakes to avoid a collision. Such is the case of this writer’s commentaries here at regarding Fort Detrick’s Area B groundwater remediation controversy. Editorial license requires caution in discussing personalities, hence the need for brakes and arresting gear.


My historical commentary “Gawd, Here They Come Again,” (August 19, 2010) reported several allegations against the U. S. Army and Fort Detrick that were proved to be without merit. The current controversy was a relevant part of that article.


My attempt at informed discourse, however, was skewed by the addition of unkind comments regarding the character and motivation of The Rev. Randy White, founder of the Kristen Renee Foundation. The foundation has had the Army on its public relations heels since last summer.


Realizing I was out of bounds in the original commentary, I wrote a follow-up November 2, 2010, entitled “The Iceman Cometh.” It was intended as an apology and clarification for my denigrating and hurtful comments made about Mr. White. It included insensitive references to his reasons for starting the foundation.


His daughter Kristen Renee tragically died in 2008 as a result of an aggressive cancerous brain tumor. He formed the foundation as an endowment for brain cancer research. I should have understood his grief.


I offer sincere regret at using the characterization of “charlatan” in reference to Mr. White. In retrospect, he had the courage to come to my front door and challenge my personal attacks. Had the situation been different – I had a time constraint – I would have invited him in to talk and we might have had a better outcome. But our conversation was cut short.


However, recently I revisited those personal attacks about Mr. White. I was a guest on the WMFD-AM930 radio chat show “Frederick’s Forum” with Pattee Brown and co-host Adam Avery. My intent was to discuss the history of Area B and the environmental restoration effort, but I lost focus and went outside the bounds of my expertise.


Mr. White appeared on “Frederick’s Forum” last Saturday and noted he was hurt and upset by personal attacks from an unnamed person. It was obvious he meant me, and I could only agree that he had every right to such feelings. I went too far and apologize to him for that.


Being a “muckraker” is not my usual writing genre. I was taught in my formative reporting days that facts and attribution are critical in a story. It is also vital that the reporter not become part of the story. I have done that and apologize to Mr. White and to you the readers of


I am reminded that my former city editor at the Newport News (VA) Daily Press, the late Bill Hockstedler, once took one of my articles and crushed it in his hands, tossing it across the room into a waste bin. “Now try again,” he said.


Bill’s words were good then and they’re good now.


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