Friday, July 01, 2011

A Lesson from the Dominique Strauss-Kahn Debacle

I should disclaim right off that I am not a fan of Dominque Strauss-Kahn. I detest both his morals and his politics.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the case against him is falling apart given that his accuser is a documented liar and worse.

The French have been very upset over how this case has been handled. And, as much as it pains me to say so, the French are right, at least about how the U. S. press has handled this.

Something that has long provoked me is how the press can drag the name of the accused in sexual assault cases through the mud while the name of the victim is protected and withheld. This double standard is wrong. It is past time that the press be required to protect the names of both the accused (until conviction) and the victim. That is done is Australia and in other countries. And given that the press has time and time again demonstrated that it cannot be trusted with the reputations of those wrongly accused, it is a necessity.

A local case particularly raises my blood pressure every time I think of it. A football coach was accused of sexually assaulting a 16 year old boy. One TV station, KRIS 6, as its usual custom, had a field day with this. But when a mistrial occurred, KRIS made it sound like it was on a technically when actually roughly half (a majority if my memory is correct) of the jury voted to acquit. It was a mistrial because the case against him was too weak to convince the jury. But KRIS suppressed this after trashing the man’s name for months on end. I guess trashing reputations is better for ratings than restoring them.

Sexual assault cases are especially prone to false accusations, destroyed reputations, and shameless news media that cannot be trusted to act with a minimum of decency and responsibility. The names of the accused should be and must be protected from the media wolves in this environment (not to mention prosecutors who exploit the news media).

No, this would not violate freedom of the press. If it does not violate press freedom to protect the names of the victims, it would not violate press freedom to protect the names of the accused in sexual assault cases until conviction. In addition it would make it much easier to get fair trials of the accused.

Yes, in practice, it would be difficult to protect the names of politicians and celebrities, as in the DSK case. But at least most names can be effectively protected. Now when someone is convicted, then yes, that is the time to reveal the name of the perpetrator. I in no way wish to protect those who really do commit sexual crimes from justice and appropriate publicity.

Nevertheless, we Americans should be ashamed of the media circuses preying on the reputations of those merely accused of sexual assaults. It is high time we tell the news media, “Enough!”

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