Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why the New York Post's coverage of the Greg Kelly rape case enraged some

Last week, the New York Post's Andrea Peyser wrote an impassioned plea to New York's district attorney to prosecute Maria Di Toro, the woman who wrongly claimed she was raped by New York television personality Greg Kelly.  Ms. Peyser wrote: "The DA must take a stand against false claims leveled against men, the same way he would uphold the right of any other minority to not be harassed and scorned because of physical appearance."

It was merely the culmination of the Post's efforts to expose the injustice to Mr. Kelly. The Post also took the unusual step of revealing the accuser's name, and it splashed her face on its front page. 

Truth be told, the Post's coverage of the Kelly investigation turned out to be fairly accurate. It's reporters were getting good information from someone on the inside. The fact that this information was leaked was unusual. The Post's coverage of the case differed from the way high profile rape cases usually are covered because the usual coverage treats the accuser, shrouded in anonymity, as a helpless victim brutalized by a predator whose identity and every flaw is revealed to the public. The public typically is invited to prejudge the case based not on information, but on stereotypes that always favor the accuser.

Here, the public was being given more information by the Post than it usually gets from anyone. And because that information didn't favor the accuser -- often called the "victim" even while the investigation is ongoing -- that enraged the usual suspects. They are so terribly accustomed to seeing the presumptively innocent man who is accused of rape skewered in the news media, that when the usual narrative didn't play out in the Post, they felt betrayed and enraged.

Over at Gawker, someone named Hamilton Nolan is incensed that the Post has been an "extremely gleeful Greg Kelly defender."  Nolan lets us know right away how s/he feels about the Post: "[T]he Post is a shitty right wing partisan paper . . .."

Then Nolan makes the following sweeping assertions:

"Anyone with a passing familiarity with How These Things Work knows that the paper could have just as easily cast Kelly as a shady villain throughout the entire process, had they wished to. They're certainly not above that sort of thing. They just chose to do the opposite. Why? I can think of two possible reasons:

"1) The Post is a fundamentally misogynist institution run by misogynists.

"2) The Post decided to use this case as an opportunity to do a favor for Ray Kelly [Ray Kelly is New York's police commissioner, the accused man's father]. Police and crime coverage is the Post's bread and butter. It pays to be on the commissioner's good side."

I write this piece to describe How These Things Really Work, because Hamilton Nolan doesn't get it.  Let's examine Nolan's assertions.

First, let's dismiss out of hand the assertion that the Post's coverage in the Kelly case proves the paper is "fundamentally misogynistic." The assertion is as puerile as it is wrongheaded.

Remember how the New York Post covered the September, 2009, Hofstra false rape case?  In case anyone doesn't remember that case, you need to read this.

The Post only became the drum major for the falsely accused young men after it was clear they were falsely accused. Before that, the Post's reporters were little more than stenographers and parrots for police, and police weren't telling anyone, including reporters, about the weaknesses in the false accuser's story. The result was that the Post, and the other media outlets, weren't giving the public all the information the police had.

The headline for one of the Post's stories on the alleged rape was as chilling as it was unjust: "Nightmare gang rape at Hofstra." The first two sentences in the story left little doubt for readers -- who wrongly assume that newspaper reporters actually investigate the things they write -- that a rape certainly occurred: "An 18-year-old Hofstra University co-ed was gang-raped by five men on campus, cops said last night. The shocking attack took place Sunday at around 3 a.m."


On the day that the false accuser's story finally unraveled, the Post ran a comment by Kieran Crowley with this headline: "Hofsta rape case. Fiends lured co-ed to attack: cops."

Read it again: "Fiends."  Here is the first sentence of that story: "They were 'predators' and she was their prey."

This wasn't a rush to judgment; it was a 60 meter sprint in record time.  More to the point, does that sound "misogynistic" to you?  

Let's recap How These Things Really Work. In rape cases, it is very rare that the defendant speaks to the news media after being accused. Moreover, the police hardly ever reveal weaknesses in rape cases before they fall apart. In Hofstra, the cops knew early on that there were problems with the accuser's story, but their public face to reporters didn't reveal any of it, likely out of fear of compromising the case for the district attorney in the event she decided to prosecute it. And the Post's reporters, and the reporters for every other newspaper, simply wrote down exactly what the police told them without doing any of their own investigations. The information was incomplete, but the Post, and the other news outlets, ran with it. The result was the destruction of four young reputations for having consensual (albeit stupid) group sex.

Second, Nolan's assertion that the Post was currying favor with the Commissioner in all likelihood is not correct. Can anyone doubt that the Post would print the same information in any high profile case where they got an inside scoop, even if the man accused had no connection with the police?  The difference between this case and all the other rape cases was that the cops wanted to help their boss, so they leaked information they ordinarily wouldn't leak to the Post.

It wasn't that the Greg Kelly story was wrongly reported by the Post; the Post's reporting here was better than the typical reporting of high profile rape cases. It only seems wrongly reported because the information reported was not favorable to the accuser.

In a perfect world, the press would not take sides while an investigation is going on.  But if I had to choose between the Post's coverage in Hofstra versus its coverage in the Greg Kelly case, I'd pick the latter any day of the week, as would any fair-minded person.