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JOAN VENNOCHI

A columnist, a source, a lesson

WHAT IF, by luck of the draw or the bar stool, you were seated next to Michael Everett, 22, at the Cheers Bar in Quincy Market, right behind historic Faneuil Hall?

On Tuesday, Nov. 4, I sat down next to a person who identified himself that way. He said he was born in Louisiana and was a recent graduate of Tulane University in New Orleans. He said his family moved north when he was a young boy and he now lives in Boston. He seemed smart, articulate, and knowledgeable about all kinds of political issues. He had a lot to say about Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean and his remarks about the Confederate flag. His comments appeared in my column on Nov. 6 about CNN's "Rock the Vote" debate, which we watched along with the rest of the crowd at Cheers.

But there is more to the story of who he is. According to the Brockton Police Department, Charles M. Everett, who uses the first name Michael, was arrested on Oct. 23. According to David Farrell, communications director for Brockton's Mayor John Yunits, Everett allegedly posted nude pictures of himself on the Internet. Farrell said Everett was fired from his teaching position at Brockton High School. He is scheduled to appear in Brockton District Court on Dec. 10 for a pretrial conference. At his arraignment, he was released on personal recognizance, with the condition that he stay away and have no contact with students, faculty or the facilities of the Brockton School Department.

I asked Everett political and personal questions, but never thought to ask about an arrest record. The next day, I did not check the clips, or search the computer archives. In this instance, it probably would not have mattered. The Brockton Enterprise printed his name as Charles Michael Everett, The Boston Herald printed it as Charles M. Everett and The Boston Globe printed it as Charles R. Everett.

None of that changes the embarrassing truth. Everett is entitled to his political views, but they do not deserve to be showcased on The Boston Globe opinion page. I apologize for putting them there.

For me, this deception is a harsh reminder to never take any person or his story for granted before putting it into print. For a journalist, there is an inherent thrill in finding what seems to be a living example of your pet political theory on the barstool next to you. But the truth about people is always more complicated than a simple newspaper storyline.

There is also a lesson beyond journalism. People who do what Everett is alleged to have done do not walk into schools or bars with signs over their heads. They don't necessarily sound like thugs or look like a police mug shot. They can seem perfectly nice, polite, intelligent and normal, perhaps even exceptionally so.

I started the conversation with Everett, just as I have started conversations with hundreds of people in the course of doing my job. I had my Globe I.D. card around my neck, and a note pad and pen in my hands. I set out on the basic mission of reporting not the big picture, but one tiny piece of it. That mission presumes the interviewer and interviewee are both acting in good faith. If they are, the hope is the reader gets a glimpse of one person's truth, some general enlightenment or maybe just something to think about.

The young woman to my right didn't seem all that interested in talking about politics or the debate. So, I looked to my left.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is vennochi@globe.com.

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