So, the New York Times' public editor, Arthur S. Brisbane, has responded to the public outrage over their failful reportage of a gang rape in Cleveland, Texas. And, to his credit, he has found the Times' coverage wanting:
My assessment is that the outrage is understandable. The story dealt with a hideous crime but addressed concerns about the ruined lives of the perpetrators without acknowledging the obvious: concern for the victim.Brisbane also notes that the Times plans a follow-up story and hopes "it delves more deeply into the subject because the March 8 story lacked a critical balancing element."
While the story appeared to focus on the community's reaction to the crime, it was not enough to simply report that the community is principally concerned about the boys and men involved – as this story seems to do. If indeed that is the only sentiment to be found in this community – and I find that very hard to believe – it becomes important to report on that as well by seeking out voices of professional authorities or dissenting community members who will at least address, and not ignore, the plight of the young girl involved.
I'd be more satisfied if Brisbane had also explicitly addressed the use of passive voice, the blaming of the victim's mother, the implicit classism, and the refusal to address race.
I'd also be more satisfied if Brisbane's piece itself hadn't started out with this sentence: "The story quickly climbed The Times's 'most emailed' list but not just because of the sensational facts of the crime involved."
I understand Brisbane is using "sensational" to mean "startling" or "attention-getting" rather than "fabulous," but even granting the more favorable usage (which, frankly, ain't that favorable, since it's most associated with lurid details of violent crimes against women), I cannot begin to describe how profoundly objectionable I would find the details of my rape being described as "sensational," and I frankly find it disgusting that the details of a gang rape of an 11-year-old child are being thus described.
If Brisbane understands the importance of countering the perception that the girl was somehow complicit in her own gang rape, even if that is the prevailing sentiment in the town, surely he can understand the importance of not treating the reporting of a child gang rape case as an episode of Law & Order: SVU, even if there are lots of people who inexplicably love to be scandalized from a safe distance by sexual violence.
This isn't a piece of entertainment, even if there are assholes who treat it that way.
Now, with whom do I file a complaint about the Public Editor...?