[Trigger warning for mention of rape] Gang Rape Story Lacked Balance

Follow-up to this blog post: [Trigger warning for mention of rape] Tell the New York Times to Apologize for Blaming a Child for Her Gang Rape (petition)

The NYTimes blog has attempted an “apology” for its coverage of the gang-rape story in Texas. The original story was littered with victim-blaming and sympathy for the perpetrators. Here is a link to the petition for an apology on change.org.

The story quickly climbed The Times’s “most emailed” list but not just because of the sensational facts of the crime involved. “Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town,” published on Tuesday, reported the gang rape by 18 boys and men of an 11-year-old girl in the East Texas town of Cleveland.

The viral distribution of the story was, at least in part, because of the intense outrage it inspired among readers who thought the piece pilloried the victim.

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.

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.

From Shelby Knox of change.org:

Brisbane’s blog post is not an apology, nor does it go far enough in explaining that “balance” does not mean giving equal weight and space to the concerns of the child rape victim and those of her alleged rapists. In addition, as the blog post only appeared online, we have yet to see whether a condemnation of the coverage will also appear in his regular Sunday column (or anywhere) in the paper. But as the public editor of the New York Times holds a respected place in the journalism community, his words sent a message to reporters at publications across the country that victim-blaming is never appropriate.

I completely agree that this “apology” is unacceptable. To claim that the piece ‘lacked balance’ is patronising and minimising. Instead of focusing on a this lack of balance, the blog piece would have been better served to be as outraged as 1000s of readers at the amount of victim-blaming which went on in the original piece. The victim-blaming was discussed but only in a tokenistic and defensive ‘we didn’t mean it like that, honest’ way. Is the next piece going to tell us that we’re all too sensitive and that we should just lighten up? Quite possibly.

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