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NYT Response On Assault Coverage Doesn't Go Far Enough

The Gray Lady should apologize for its terrible coverage of Cleveland, Texas assault

Like Carolyn, I’m glad the New York Time’s has finally seen fit to respond to the public outcry over its terrible coverage of the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, TX.

I’m not particularly happy with the response from the paper, though. Earlier this week, the New York Times published an article about this shocking and awful crime that focused on the impact the crime had on the small town where it occurred.

The story included details about what the girl wore, who she spent her time with, and how she was supervised by her mother; all seeming to suggest that she was somehow culpable for the crime committed against her by 18 men and boys who brutally raped her. Quotes from the community members focused on concern for the perpetrators, not the victim.

There was an understandable outcry over this blatant example of rape culture.

The New York Times public editor responded today with a thoughtful essay about the problems with the original article, but he doesn’t go far enough.

The public editor’s response was pretty anemic, saying the story “lacked balance” rather than “promoted a totally reprehensible viewpoint without critical commentary”.  It also made it seem as if the failing was largely in the reporter’s failure to seek out victim’s advocates or legal experts who could speak in support of the girl.

It’s true that the absence of these voices, or of sympathetic voices in the community, was a striking failure. But it wasn’t the only one, or the most important.

The reporter himself made numerous egregious errors in the article, choosing to paint the girl as being somehow responsible for her own assault and humanizing her assailants with sympathetic details while ignoring similar details about the victim and her family. The reporter chose to refer to a 19-year-old suspect as a “boy” rather than a “man”, while pointing out that the girl wore clothes “more appropriate to a woman in her 20s”.

This story wasn’t just poorly reported or unbalanced. It was biased and victim-blaming. I was heartened to see in the public editor’s response that they are working on a follow-up story, but the NYT should apologize more directly.

Photo: Joe Shablotnik

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