Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rant #93: Media Misuses Power of Free Speech

The recent incident where a student at Hofstra University on Long Island said she had been sexually attacked, and then recanted her story when a partial video of the incident turned up showing that the acts were consensual, speaks volumes about how the news media covers such horrific acts—and the unfairness of this coverage.

When the young woman made her charges, four of the five culprits were rounded up and put into prison. When the woman recanted her charges, the men were set free.

However, their names and where they were from were plastered all over the news. Their photos went from one end of the world to the other, and this is without any trial being held.

Sure, they were released from prison when the story was proven to be a false one, but everyone knows who they are because the media jumped the gun on their guilt, when they should have been questioning whether these men should have been in jail in the first place.

Funny, now that the story has proven to be false, many news outlets refuse to publish the woman’s name or photo.

Why was it OK to publish the men’s photos and other information, but not the woman’s?

I believe the media handled this case, and others, irresponsibly. Remember Richard Jewell, who was accused of the Olympic bombing several years ago only to be exonerated? Why was his name and picture plastered all over the place—and this was before the Internet really took hold of the news and almost everything we do.

And there were many other cases. One that comes to mind is the Tawana Brawley case, where several men were charged with a crime that didn't happen. One of the victims was so distraught that he committed suicide.

The Duke University case is another. Several young men were accused of attacking a stripper, but the stripper made the whole thing up. These young men have had to clean their names up since being falsely accused of rape.

I don’t understand the news outlets, and I don’t understand the Nassau County, Long Island, New York, district attorney office for letting the men’s names out.

Oh, I know, these guys are no choirboys, but they aren’t rapists either. The women only made up the story to placate her boyfriend, but it could have doomed these men to a false label—and to some extent, it already has doomed them.

I just wish the news media would show some restraint in cases like this. They jump the gun all too often, and innocent people get eaten up.

And I hope the young men in the Hofstra case are able to pick up their lives, think about getting into such a compromising situation, and move on with their lives. The woman ... well, I hope Nassau County charges her with something. She needs to understand that accusing these men of such a heinous crime is wrong.

Whatever the outcome, the media's abuse of its power just isn’t fair—to the victims (and yes, the men are now victims), to the families involved, and to the public at large.

I hope that the media understands this, but since it continually happens, I would severely doubt it.

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