Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Another day, another round of presumptively innocent men declared to be rapists by our impartial news media

There shouldn't be any dispute about the point we're about to make. Presumptively innocent men should not be branded as rapists, expressly or impliedly, by paid journalists who write for our major dailies.  Yet, we see ample evidence of this very thing happening every single day, and nobody seems to give a damn.  Reporters routinely label rape accusers as "victims," and they report alleged rapes with no evidentiary basis beyond the word of the accuser (i.e., "he said/she said" cases) as if the rapes certainly occurred.

Example: a writer named Dave Zirin isn't happy with Notre Dame's handling of a rape charged lodged against a football player by a young woman who subsequently committed suicide, so he wrote a piece that let everyone know he thinks a sexual assault certainly took place. "It’s a horrible story that shines light on something that occurs on far too many campuses, where sexual assault is part of the culture of entitlement conjoined with big-time men's college athletics," Zirin declared.

Sorry, Mr. Zirin. An allegation by a deceased witness who can't be cross-examined by the presumptively innocent young man she accused scarcely shines light on anything, much less a purported "culture of entitlement."  It was a tragedy, but neither you, nor I, nor anyone else aside from the young man knows what happened.

Then Mr. Zirin attacks coach Brian Kelly, and in the process, makes sure everyone knows that a sexual assault occurred, and that coach Kelly turned a blind eye to it:  "He’s the sort of man who turns his back on a sexual assault involving one of his players and can't bring himself to show sympathy for a 19-year-old woman’s suicide."

Mr. Zirin didn't just rush to judgment, he did a 60-meter sprint in record time. 

He's not alone. S. Daniel Carter, director of public policy for Security on Campus, a national nonprofit organization that focuses on campus safety issues, was quoted without challenge in a major daily calling the Notre Dame accuser "the victim." 

Of course, if she was a "victim," then the young man she accused must be a rapist, but our major dailies don't seem to think the presumption of innocence is a concept worthy of defense when it comes to young men accused of rape.

Elsewhere, in a short story about an 18-year-old charged with attempted rape in a "he said/she said" case, the reporter twice calls his accuser "the victim."

Down in Florida, a presumptively innocent man on trial for rape claims no rape occurred, but that doesn't stop the newspaper reporter from referring to the accuser as "the victim" multiple times.

Up in Minneaopolis, four boys have been accused of a gang rape, and the headline of the news report is as follows: "Victim speaks online about sexual assault at Powderhorn Park."

Out in California, a reporter writes about a rape accusation after the charges were dropped by calling the accuser "the victim."  The reporter claims "police reports show the victim clearly told the man their encounter had gone too far." In fact, the now-cleared young man claimed she said "no" in a way "that made me think she wasn't serious."  (Newsflash: if a reasonable person would have thought her "no" wasn't serious, it wasn't rape.)

Down in Panama City, the story starts out: "A Panama City man was arrested on a charge of sexual assault in connection with a rape that occurred Monday night." The accuser is referred to as "the victim" three times.

In Louisiana, in a report about another "he said/she said" rape case, the presumptively innocent man denies even having sex with his accuser, yet she is referred to as "the victim" six times.

And I could go on and on and on. The stories I referenced are fresh in the news this week, and if we bothered to go back a couple of years, we could fill this blog with examples of reporters rushing to judgment in a similar manner.  How many times must we say it?  Calling an accuser "the victim" does a grave disservice to (1) the presumptively innocent since, by necessity, they must be guilty if their accusers are, in fact, "victims"; (2) actual rape victims, because reporters trivialize rape when they include among its victims women who might only be false accusers; and (3) readers of the paper, who are entitled to accurate reporting but receive something less than that when reporters transform an accuser into a "victim."  The only fair manner of reporting on these cases is to refer to accusers as exactly what they are: accusers or alleged victims.

These reporters have harmed and in some cases forever destroyed the reputations of presumptively innocent young men based on nothing more than the naked allegations of lone accusers.  But beyond that, for the cases referenced above, and for every similar case, if the charges ever do result in a trial, the jury pool likely will have at least some people who've read the articles where a reporter expressly or impliedly declared that a rape occurred.

Any way this shameful journalistic practice is viewed, it is morally grotesque and indefensible.  A lot more people ought to be outraged and speaking out about it.

If you want to see a paradigmatic example of these awful journalistic practices, see here: