If you could read it all, you’d see how the anonymous email about Dan Gerlach presented local news outlets with an out-sized dilemma.

Libel-potential saturates it. That surely is why the email itself hasn’t been much reported on. Caution is prudent, no doubt, for ethical and legal reasons.

Still, it needn’t be an absolute “to publish or not.” There’s a middle ground, an alternative path to truth. Edit out the libel-potential. Report what’s left. A modicum of context is better than none.

I viewed the anonymous email in the queue of one of its unknown number of original recipients. They or he or she asked not to be publicly paired with it, and I agreed.

There are a few safe bits in the email. Its “Sent” line is time-stamped 2:48 p.m. Sept. 29, 2019. Its “To” line reads, “undisclosed-recipients”.

The single address in the “From” line could belong to or be shared by person or persons uninvolved. Best to vague it up. It’s an obviously fake name at Gmail.

The “Subject” line holds 12 words. Redacted, it reads: “Link of Pictures and Videos (libel risk) of Dan Gerlach with Students”.

Its body copy is a single paragraph; five sentences, 98 words. Made safe, it reads:

“Here is a link to some of the videos and pictures of Chancellor Dan Gerlach of ECU (libel risk). He (libel risk). I and many others are appalled that this man is leading East Carolina University (libel risk). (Libel risk) perhaps, (libel risk) seemingly. (Unverified claim), yet he seems to be (libel risk).”

Below that is a link to a virtual drop box. It’s a dead link now. The box is gone. Before its apparent deletion it held photos and videos, categorized, captioned and embedded with potential libel.

The anonymous email is one of two related but separate stories of what happened the night of Sept. 25 at Club 519. First, there’s the story of Gerlach crossing the line between leader and regular guy. He’s apologized for that in voluntary appearances on Pirate Radio Live and then, on Talk of the Town.

The second is a dark story served up by an anonymous emailer. Gerlach has adamantly denied any improprieties that night. Club 519 staff who were there deny it too.

Gerlach, in the radio interviews, described the email as a “professional put-together packet of pictures and videos with captions that are incendiary.” The question is, “Why would someone do such a thing?” The UNC System must answer it in detail in public.

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