There is an excellent write up by fellow NH Insider writer Steven J Connolly, which you can read in full HERE, about the comments made by the now former Wolfeboro Police Commissioner Bob Copeland. He and I have a slightly different take on the whole thing so I would recommend reading his article first before continuing with mine.
In my opinion this story comes down to a couple different things.
1) Freedom of speech vs. consequences for ones actions
2) Freedom of the press vs. morality of picking and choosing what to print in the press
Before I continue let me share a story about a situation that happened to me that was similar to what happened to Copeland. I didn't use derogatory language but a comment I made in a restaurant after the election was picked up by the press and printed.
Several years ago I ran for school board in Merrimack. There were four of us running for two open seats. Three of us were new comers and the fourth was long time school board chairman Ken Coleman.
Now I will preface by saying I don't have any issues with Ken as a person. He and I shake hands when we bump into each other at town functions and if asked I would gladly join him for a beer but we do disagree strongly on politics. Perhaps that's something I've learned over the years being married to a Democrat, I can disagree politically and still like the person I disagree with (for the record my wife and I tend to agree on town level politics since she is fiscally conservative).
Long story made short, when election day came I came in third place by just a handful of votes. A bunch of us were at a bar listening to the results on public access and needless to say I was a bit depressed having been beaten by a narrow margin. Ken Coleman however came in fourth place.
The candidates who won for town council and one of the two who won for school board were also in the bar and had begun celebrating.
One of my supporters in the bar attempted to cheer me up by pointing out that I had beaten Ken who had served on the school board for a decade and spent many of those years as the chairman of the board, and not only had I beaten him but I beat him by a couple hundred votes in an otherwise very close race. He patted me on the back and said that beating Ken by as many votes as I did when I was the least known of the four candidates was a heck of an accomplishment. I smiled and stated that I guess that counted for something, and then made the comment "At least I beat Ken Coleman and that's what matters".
I didn't state it as an attack on Ken, I said it attempting to make myself feel better by pointing out something I did accomplish even though I lost the race.
Little did I know there was a reporter, an attractive young woman, sitting right next to us who jotted down the last portion of what I said into her notebook.
Next morning halfway into the article about the results is my quote taken completely out of context stated in such a way that it appeared that it was my comment to her when she came asking for any comments.
Was it wrong for the reporter to print a statement they over heard? No. I don't see any difference in this and when politicians on the federal level make the mistake of talking candidly while standing too close to an open mike.
The next question to ask is did the report actually report what was said accurately and does the context of what was said matter? In my case, the context did matter in my opinion and the reporter did not accurately convey the context of the comments leading the reader to believe I was being malicious.
In Copeland's case he openly admits to saying what he was quoted in saying. As for the context, his story started with a woman hearing what he said and quoting on her face book page. There was no spin or attempt to paint the context, just the fact Copeland said X. The press saw it as a story and ran with it.
The last question is does the press have any moral obligation to cover or not cover stories about comments heard in public? Reporters are there to sell stories. If a newspaper can sell 100 copies because of story X and 500 copies because of story Y, you better believe story Y will be the front page story. The fact people are still discussing this a week later proves it is a story worth covering. It is selling papers.
To sum it all up it comes down to a couple things.
1) Is what is reported true and accurate
2) Is what is reported in the proper context
3) Is what is reported newsworthy enough to sell newspapers