UPDATE Nov. 25 at 6:45 p.m.: The New York Times has issued a statement defending its story:
We had extensive discussions about the story before it was published. We believe it was careful and sensitive and gave some important insight into the victim’s ordeal. By not publishing his name, we hoped to preserve some privacy for him in the wider world, despite the fact that his identity is already widely known in the college community.
: The Patriot-News’s coverage of the Jerry Sandusky scandal has given Editor David Newhouse a great deal to be proud of. Too bad he had to muck it up with his own byline.
In an essay that appears to have been written from Pennsylvania’s highest moral promontory, Newhouse applauded his own paper’s journalistic principles while trashing those of other news organizations, particularly the New York Times. The charge against the Times relates to its recent story about Sandusky’s alleged “Victim One” — a thoroughly reported piece by Nate Schweber and Jo Becker. Though the reporters never mention the name of Victim One, they include too many details about his life, according to Newhouse. Curious folks and news organizations can hop on the Internet and find “the young man’s name within seconds,” he writes.
Although the Times story has been all over the web, and of course the Times web site draws a huge amount of traffic on its own, we decline to link to it here.
The details that so bother Newhouse supply Schweber and Becker’s story with immediacy and authority. If you were wondering just how hellacious it is to be a child accusing a statewide hero of sexual molestation, read this story:
The boy, according to friends and others, was taunted by classmates after it became widely known this month that he had testified against Sandusky as part of a case that ultimately caused Joe Paterno, the longtime football coach at Penn State, to lose his job.
As is de rigeur in its investigative pieces, the Times beats its chest about how much work it has done: “The New York Times has interviewed dozens of friends, coaches and others involved in the case to fill out a portrait of the boy, his experiences, his life before he became part of Pennsylvania’s most high-profile investigation, and his life since.”
That breadth, suggests Newhouse, is part of the problem. The paper, he says, took a wide angle on the story, printing particulars that have nothing “to do with why or how the boy was allegedly befriended and then assaulted over several years by Sandusky. They do not serve the story of Jerry Sandusky. They only serve to make an alleged victim of sexual assault easily identifiable.”
Perhaps Newhouse merely skimmed the story. Sandusky’s alleged MO emerges in all its horrifics via the Schweber-Becker account. We find out how Sandusky gave the kid gifts, took him on trips and schemed to corner him alone. We also confirm that Sandusky’s attorney, Joseph Amendola, is upping his own creepy quotient. Here’s the counselor responding to the Times on why Sandusky grabbed the boy in a pool and sat next to him in a hot tub:
“That’s Jerry — he was always a very physical kind of teddy bear, like an overgrown kid. He would hug kids, he kissed kids, but it wasn’t sexual.”
That’s Jerry, all right — working with a bad set of facts and a lawyer who makes them worse.
In addition to conferring news value, the story’s deep reporting layers in the value of a primer: Here, parents, is how an alleged child molester maneuvers. Take heed.
To read Newhouse’s screed, none of that outweighs the damage represented by the search-engine clues in the story. He writes:
...reporting sexual assaults still carries a stigma. It is no accident that Victim One was only the second boy to come forward to authorities in what is alleged to have been more than 15 years of assaults by Sandusky. Stories like these, if anything, could discourage future victims from speaking up.
Could the Times have killed a few fine points in the story to diminish the boy’s exposure to Google? Perhaps. Could those details have been spared without harm to the story? That’s less clear, but probably so. Keep in mind, though, that the boy’s high-school community doesn’t need Google or the New York Times---it already knew who he was and the role he has played in the Sandusky case. New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy wrote on Thanksgiving Day: “We’re not going to comment.” Attempts to get comment from the Patriot-News were unsuccessful.
Either way, Newhouse’s call to strip stories of Google-able details could put media organizations on a tortured path. He’s saying that editors should do more than just withhold victims’ names from stories in sensitive situations: They should also strive to protect the identity of the victims, a much more complicated pursuit that involves scanning every last sentence for tidbits that could assist in an Internet search.
Whatever the standard, Newhouse’s article makes clear that he’s not the guy to campaign for it. The very first words of his essay betray a competitive insecurity vis-a-vis the New York Times:
From the very beginning of reporting on the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse story, Patriot-News reporter Sara Ganim knew the identity and many details about the young man known in the grand jury presentment as Victim One.
In other words: We had that story!
From petty, Newhouse goes hypocritical. As he slaps the Times for including these Google-friendly details, well, he does almost the same thing, identifying the story points in the Times story that yield instant search success. How did I find the name of Victim One? I used Newhouse’s essay as A Google Search Guide to the Identity of Victim One.
For that reason, we decline to link to it here.
If Newhouse had really been so committed to preserving the privacy of Victim One, he would have penned a quiet e-mail to the Times’s public editor and returned to his duties. If he had wanted to grandstand, moralize and proclaim to his readers that he didn’t get beat on the Victim One story, then he would have done exactly what he did.