(Hat tip to Shakesville)
[Trigger warning for sexual violence; rape apologia; victim-blaming.]
This is a copy of the letter I’ve sent the New York Times over this article, in which the writer would have you believe that the account of the defendant in a rape case is more important than that of the victim, despite evidence that it also false. I urge my [X amount of readers] to let the Times know how much they suck at this and why it’s wrong and actively harmful by contacting the Public Editor.
Dear Mr. Brisbane and the Editorial Staff of the New York Times:
I understand that “innocent until proven guilty” is one of the cornerstones of our legal system. However, adhering to that maxim does not mean that one should try to skew sympathies to favor the defendant, which is what reporter John Eligon has done in the article “In Rape Trial, Officer Calls Woman the Aggressor and Says They Only Snuggled”. The article is problematic in many significant ways, which, when combined with the Times‘ equally wrongheaded reporting in the recent Texas gang rape case, leads me to believe that the newspaper cannot be trusted to cover rape or sexual assault in a responsible manner.
First, the headline, which as one learns in Journalism school, will often be the only part of an article a reader will read, and therefore needs to summarize the news article accurately. Does “In Rape Trial, Officer Calls Woman the Aggressor and Says They Only Snuggled” do that? As it turns out, no: we learn later that in a secretly recorded statement “in which [Officer Moreno] made several statements implying that he had had sex with her.” However, that bit of information, despite putting in question everything the officer claims and being the most important piece of information in the whole piece (and therefore, something that should be placed in the lede) is to be found in the article’s nineteenth paragraph–long after many readers will have stopped reading the article. What does a person who only read the first few paragraphs end up thinking? That a responsible officer, despite doing his best to help, only gets a rape accusation for his troubles. Moreover, the article is written to allow the reader to follow the defendant’s point of view, letting us know (irrelevant) details about the officer’s life and casting him in a sympathetic light, while the victim is not described in any terms that are not those of the defendant. This is not an unbiased account of the facts.
Part of the reason why rape as a whole remains under-reported is because it can open the victims to accusations that they are liars, despite the lack of factual support for such a narrative. In writing this article, John Eligon and the New York Times have continued to reinforce that narrative, therefore helping assure that rape victims will not get the support they need, and that rapists continue to rape, safe in the assurance that their side of the story will be the one that will be heard.