In the seven weeks since Herman J. Obermayer announced his suburban Virginia newspaper would publish the names of rape victims, the paper has published five stories about rape cases and not one victim's name.
But during that period, Obermayer, 53, editor and publisher of the 20,000-circulation Northern Virginia Sun, has been the subject of one national news magazine article, two network television features and, he conceded yesterday, the target of an "overwhelmingly" angry public response.
Not since he "took a stand on some dispute in a high school football league" has the small Arlington afternoon newspaper seen anything like the response it received from Obermayer's Dec. 16 front-page column on naming rape victims.
The column has upset Washington-area prosecutors, legislators, women's groups and editorialists, almost all of whom have charged that the Sun's decision will make women even more reluctant to report what state Del. Mary A. Marshall (D-Arlington) says is "the most under-reported crime in the country, rape."
"I am personally extremely outraged, and you can make that as strong as you like," snapped Mary Ann McCarthy, a member of the Northern Virginia Chapter of the National Organization for women. "We think it's grossly unfair," she said.
Obermayer announced yesterday he has "modified" his initial decision and said the modifications - not a change in his previously announced stand - account for the fact that his paper has yet to print a single victim's name.
The Sun, he said will not print the names of juvenile or mentally retarded rape victims or women in cases in which the defendant pleads guilty to rape.
"It so happens that that's the only kind (of rape case) we've had since I printed my editorial," Obermayer said.
His decision to print the names has attracted national attention for the paper because it would make the Sun one of a handful of newspapers in the country to follow such a practice, according to the editors of "The News Media and the Law," a new Washington publication that surveys such ises.
Newspapers have "an absolute right" to publish the names because the victims are identified in court records, said Charles J. Sennett, an associate editor of the magazine.
But few newspapers do publish the names because of what Sennett said would be "the ruckus" that publishing the names would cause and the belief that the papers have "no compelling reason" to publish the names.
That's not the way Obermayer says he sees the issue.
"The reason for reporting trials is, as I understand it, to subject the courts to public scrutiny," he said yesterday. "That means not only the judge, jury, and prosecutors, but the complaining witness as well."
To do that "you have to know who you are talking about," Obermayer said. "I don't think that the ends of justice are served by this type of anonymity."
Obermayer said he has the support of his wife, four daughters and a sprinkling of intellectuals and academics but not many others.
"I didn't anticipate that this was going to be a national event" he said, adding he didn't write his column in an attempt to gain publicity for the paper, which he has owned 14 years.
However, he said his stand has cost the paper "a few" subscribers. The Fairfax County Democratic party also condemned his stand last month in a rare resolution attacking the news media.
"I can't see that (publishing the names of rape victims) does anybody any good," said Emilie Miller, head of the county's Democratic Committee.
"Publicity is one of the things that seems to disturb the victims "most," said Helen F. Fahey, an assistant prosecutor in Arlington who handles rape cases.
"Rape is, under the best of circumstances, very traumatic and very disturbing, let alone discovering all the gory details have been spread all across the front page of the local paper."