Rape, Racism, and What To Print

Yesterday was a day full of debate at the office on two stories, neither of them pretty.

Someone gave another reporter emails written by a local Republican activist calling the president of the United States a “jungle alien,” a “jungle bunny,” and the n-word. When the reporter called to ask about them the man did not respond well.

And I wrote a story about a man arrested for raping his wife. By identifying him I identified her. Several people emailed the paper expressing their disgust.

Yesterday became a chance to discuss how you go about implicating someone in the paper, and what information people have the right to know. Do you call someone a racist because they use the n-word? Or do you simply describe the language? Is the language the lead in a story that has many angles? How much weight do you give to his explanation?

And then the next story. Do you treat rape by a spouse differently than you would treat a rapist that is an unknown assailant? Or do you give equal treatment to anyone who is arrested? Is it a good idea to ignore domestic violence cases to shield the victims, or is that turning a blind eye to the problem and giving the perpetrators a pass? How much detail do you put into the story, assuming you have to identify the perpetrator and the crime, and through those the victim? (Just a quick note — if you are reporting on crime you have to be very specific when identifying who was arrested, otherwise people with similar names will be implicated. Name, date of birth and address are standard, otherwise you run into problems.)

It was a day full of good discussions, but it was also a day full of unanswerable questions. We answered with what we feel is right, but each answer is a judgement call. It’s balancing fair treatment of the subject with the public’s right to know and the impact on others involved. For some, like domestic violence-related rape victims, there are no good answers. But the conversation in itself is worth having.

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