Friday, January 27, 2012

A Newspaper With a Pitchfork

A  New York Times story on Friday that essentially indicted and convicted a 22-year-old star football player on an alleged sexual assault charge by an anonymous accuser should have begun as follows:

“We know absolutely nothing about this rumor except what six people told us anonymously about this guy who they say sexually assaulted this girl. We don’t know who she is or what she said, or really anything, but here’s HIS name and what ‘they’ say about him.”

Instead, with throat-clearing authority, the story begins with the young man’s name — Patrick J. Witt, Yale University’s former quarterback — and his announcement last fall that he was withdrawing his Rhodes scholarship application so that he could play against Harvard. The game was scheduled the same day as the scholarship interview.

Next we are told that he actually had withdrawn his application for the scholarship after the Rhodes Trust had learned “through unofficial channels that a fellow student had accused Witt of sexual assault.” And there goes the gavel. Case closed.

But in fact, no one seems to know much of anything, and no one in an official capacity is talking. The only people advancing this devastating and sordid tale are “a half-dozen [anonymous] people with knowledge of all or part of the story.” All or part? Which part? As in, “Heard any good gossip lately?”
Read the rest here.

I read the original story from the Times when it was posted and was sufficiently appalled to email a nasty letter to the editor which said in part... "A story based entirely on anonymous sources about an unnamed woman who filed a non specific and informal complaint with no police involvement and no formal action from the university alleging sexual misconduct by a nationally known athlete is not what most people would describe as news. Rather the word "gossip" seems more appropriate. Which is why I was sorry to see the "newspaper of record" publishing a story I would expect to find on page six of the Post."

For those not from the big city, the NY Post runs a notorious gossip column on page six.


Anonymous said...

Your argument is entirely logical but ignores the context:

* We live in a world where most victims of sexual abuse don't feel able to come forward and report the abuse.
* A minority of reported sexual abuse cases are successfully pursued and prosecuted by the police.
* A minority of cases that make it to court result in convictions.
* Universities, sports clubs, civic groups (like society at large) tend to turn a blind eye to the rampant sexual abuse and harassment in society.

By all means let's have a fair process for victims as well as those accussed of this serious crime. But if a newspaper is or individual is whistleblowing that an incident has occurred and it is not being pursued by the relevant authorities then we should support a swift and open investigation by all the relevant authorities.

"Tittle tattle" is not appropriate either, but given the huge imbalance against victims of sexual abuse and harassment in society we need to create more space for victims to be heard, supported and defended.

Given the epidemic of sexual abuse in the USA today, why are our leaders not calling for a "war on rape" as we get the "war on drugs" or "war on terror"?

John (Ad Orientem) said...

So the possibility of tarring and feathering the occasional innocent is OK as long as we increase the prosecution of actual rape? I read the NT Times article again. It does not call for a police investigation. It does not call for a formal investigation on any level. It repeats gossip, innuendo and half facts from anonymous sources. And it left out substantively important facts as noted in the above quoted article.

This was a travesty and a shocking abuse of journalistic ethics.