PBS airs documentary on gay Idaho Falls reporter

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This month, PBS airs "In A Small Town," a special two-part episode of their series Expose: America's Investigative Reports.

The episode documents what happens when Peter Zuckerman, a reporter for the Idaho Post Falls Register, unearths evidence of multiple victims of child sexual abuse in the local boy scouts. When the story breaks it leads to fierce division within the community. Zuckerman and the paper he works for come under attack both from Mormon groups and from the Boy Scouts. Zuckerman, who is gay, is eventually outed, and his sexual orientation becomes an issue in the very story he's trying to cover.

Part one of this two-part program airs Friday, September 28 at 10:00. Part two follows on October 5th. (Check local listings). Web viewers can check out “In a Small Town” two days earlier online at the show’s website.

A trailer clip as well as full description from the press release follows after the break.

From the press release….

While covering his daily beat, Post Register cops-and-courts reporter Peter Zuckerman, then 25, heard some whispers about a secret court case. But his repeated inquiries yielded only shrugs and denials – until an anonymous tipster met him alone at night in an Idaho Falls park and slipped him a single Post-It note that would eventually lead him to sealed court documents. After extensive research and a legal fight to unseal the documents, the Post Register managed to obtain copies of the court records for civil and criminal lawsuits that revealed multiple instances of sexual abuse by local Boy Scout leaders, including the case of a man named Brad Stowell. In 1997 Stowell had been convicted on two counts of sexual abuse of a minor. What was unknown to the public – and what the court records revealed – was that Stowell had admitted under oath in a court deposition in 1999 to molesting two dozen boys beginning as far back as 1988.

And yet, Zuckerman learned, Brad Stowell remained a Boy Scout leader.

But the story didn't end there. As Zuckerman continued his reporting, he would discover that the national Boy Scouts of America and its local affiliate, the Grand Teton Council, had hired powerful lawyers to ensure that the public would never have access to the court files and hear the whole story about Stowell. Moreover, one high-level local official of the Mormon Church, which sponsors most of the Grand Teton scout troops, was aware not only of the allegations, but also that Stowell had undergone sex offender counseling.

The Post Register (circulation 26,000) published Zuckerman's reports in 2005 and the paper was immediately accused by some in the community of being anti-Mormon, anti-Boy Scout, and anti-American. Advertisers canceled ads. The newsroom – staffed by many Mormons and former Scouts or Scout leaders – felt the pressure even when, in an open letter to readers, the paper's Mormon-born, Eagle Scout publisher defended the series.

Meanwhile, there was a story brewing behind the stories. The reporter Peter Zuckerman is gay – a detail he and the newspaper considered irrelevant to his reporting. But even before the "Scouts' Honor" stories were published, the Grand Teton Council issued a denial and provided its leadership with guidelines on how to respond to the articles. And when a Forbes 400 multimillionaire local businessman bought a series of ads in the Post Register, essentially outing Zuckerman and decrying what the ads called biased reporting, Zuckerman became part of his own story in a way he had never imagined.

Yet, the Post Register continued to uncover and publish documentation of other local Boy Scout incidents of pedophilia, including that of an individual who was convicted in 1991 of raping boys in Utah.

Eventually, Zuckerman left Idaho Falls, run out of town by those who opposed his reporting. But his work at the Post Register on the "Scouts' Honor" series resulted in the public identification of four local pedophiles, and, perhaps even more significantly, sparked a successful effort by the victims' families to change Idaho law and eliminate the statute of limitations on prosecuting perpetrators of child sexual abuse.

Zuckerman, who received the prestigious Livingston Award, honoring top journalists under the age of 35, for his work on the series, is currently a county reporter at The Oregonian.

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