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A Lesson in Blame-Shifting By the Franklin Committee - July 10, 1992 - Omaha World-Herald

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July 10, 1992 A Lesson in Blame-Shifting By the Franklin Committee; [Bulldog Edition] Omaha World - Herald. Omaha, Neb. pg. 22 - Editorial

Full Text (536 words)
(Copyright 1992 Omaha World-Herald Company)


The final report of the Nebraska Legislature's Franklin committee resembles the work of a scoundrel who is allowed to write his own obituary. It is a masterpiece of evasion and blame-shifting.

The committee, in 1988 and 1989, conducted an incompetent "investigation" of the Franklin Community Federal Credit Union failure and rumors connected to its manager, Lawrence E. King Jr. This week it has produced its final report, a ridiculously self-serving account of its activities.

Did committee materials leak into the public realm, adding names and allegations to the Omaha and eastern Nebraska rumor mill in 1990? Yes, but the committee won't accept blame for those leaks. Its report blames news organizations.

Did the chairman of the committee, Loran Schmit, by defending the credibility of leaked videotapes in which prominent Omaha men were accused of sexually abusing minors, contribute to the damage caused by the rumor mill? Tragically, yes. But the committee won't take responsibility for that, either.

Did the committee allow the fabrications to survive by its failure to obtain corroboration, including lie-detector tests, of the fanciful tales told by the "victim-witnesses"? Indeed it did, but the committee says its members weren't professional investigators. Omaha attorney James Martin Davis, who is experienced in criminal investigations, said Thursday that the "whole Franklin scandal never would have occurred" if the "victim-witnesses" had been given lie-detector tests shortly after they told their stories.

The committee's lame excuse: "It did not appear to us that a legislative committee should be in the polygraph business."

Further, did the vicious fabrications that the committee carelessly allowed to circulate damage the reputation of Robert Wadman, then Omaha's police chief? In a classic example of blaming the victim, the report puts some of the responsibility on Wadman. It wasn't the committee's fault, the report says, that the chief didn't rush out and get a blood test to prove that Alisha Owen was lying when she accused him of fathering the child she bore as a teen-ager.

The committee's self-justifications are intellectually and morally bankrupt. It was the committee's chairman, Senator Schmit, who made public the existence of the videotapes. It was Schmit's lawyer, John DeCamp, who badgered news organizations to publish the names of prominent people who were mentioned on the videotapes.

Granted, the committee proposed changes in procedures for handling sexual abuse cases involving young people. But any good those changes may have done was more than offset by the committee's mishandling of the fabrications by Miss Owen and her fellow storytellers, its rush to judgment, its insistence even after the hoax was exposed that serious wrongdoing was being covered up.

Thankfully, the report may be the last the public hears from the Schmit committee. The Legislature took away its mandate at the beginning of the 1991 session. But the unfortunate results live on - everywhere a career was damaged, a reputation was tarnished or confidence was lost in the institutions of democratic government.

The self-righteous, don't-blame-us tone of the committee's report suggests that Schmit and its other members - Bernice Labedz, Dan Lynch, Dennis Baack and Jerome Warner - still don't get it. They still don't see, apparently, that one of the major victims of the Franklin episode was the Legislature itself.

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