Rush to judgement

Wow, this Kathleen Parker column is awfully disturbing.  Honestly disappointed to see such sensationalistic and shoddy journalism in the Times:

A  New York Times story on Friday that essentially indicted and convicted a 22-year-old star football player on an alleged sexual assault charge by an anonymous accuser should have begun as follows:

“We know absolutely nothing about this rumor except what six people told us anonymously about this guy who they say sexually assaulted this girl. We don’t know who she is or what she said, or really anything, but here’s HIS name and what ‘they’ say about him.”…

Instead, with throat-clearing authority, the story begins with the young man’s name — Patrick J. Witt, Yale University’s former quarterback — and his announcement last fall that he was withdrawing his Rhodes scholarship application so that he could play against Harvard. The game was scheduled the same day as the scholarship interview.

Next we are told that he actually had withdrawn his application for the scholarship after the Rhodes Trust had learned “through unofficial channels that a fellow student had accused Witt of sexual assault.” And there goes the gavel. Case closed.

But in fact, no one seems to know much of anything, and no one in an official capacity is talking. The only people advancing this devastating and sordid tale are “a half-dozen [anonymous] people with knowledge of all or part of the story.” All or part? Which part? As in, “Heard any good gossip lately?” …

Moreover, when Witt requested a formal inquiry into the allegations, he says, the university declined. “No formal complaint was filed, no written statement was taken from anyone involved, and his request . . . for a formal inquiry was denied because, he was told, there was nothing to defend against,” according to the statement.

The Times apparently didn’t know these facts, but shouldn’t it have known them before publishing the story? It’s not until the 11th paragraph that readers even learn about the half-dozen anonymous sources. Not until the 14th paragraph does the Times tell us that “many aspects of the situation remain unknown, including some details of the allegation against Witt; how he responded; how it was resolved; and whether Yale officials who handle Rhodes applications — including Richard C. Levin, the university’s president, who signed Witt’s endorsement letter — knew of the complaint.”

Translation: We don’t know anything, but we’re smearing this guy anyway.

Naturally, Parker draws parallels to the Duke Lacrosse case.  There was certainly a rush to judgement there, but in the media’s defense, its really different when you are publishing things based on a Distinct Attorney (whom, until that point you had no reason to know was dishonest and unscrupulous) than the allegations of half a dozen anonymous sources with “part of the story.”  Yikes!

Advertisements

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Rush to judgement

  1. itchy says:

    Right. There’s a difference between someone making an accusation vs. the district attorney taking the case.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: