MARCH 16, 2011 8:44PM

Shame and Blame part 2: the impact of bad reporting

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Last week, I wrote about the New York Times coverage of the brutal assault of an 11-year-old girl.  The reporter pointed out that the girl had been dressed provocatively and quoted several townspeople who were concerned about the perpetrators’ lives being ruined.  


I have already ranted enough about the million things wrong with that story.  The editors’ tepid response to the one letter that was printed claimed that the reporter was just reflecting the sentiments of the community.  The public editor's response did take the reporter to task, but also blathered on about “balanced reporting.”  I’m not sure I get where a balance might be struck when pointing out a victim’s style of dress or blaming her mother (yes, that too), but whatever.  For the most part, it seemed as though the Times had shrugged its collective shoulders and moved on.  (Comments on both stories are “closed.”)


But today, I learned that Florida Representative Kathleen Passidomo actually used the story to encourage passage of -- brace yourself -- a student dress code bill:  


“There was an article about an 11 year old girl who was gang raped in Texas by 18 young men because she was dressed up like a 21-year-old prostitute. And her parents let her attend school like that. And I think it's incumbent upon us to create some areas where students can be safe in school and show up in proper attire so what happened in Texas doesn't happen to our students.”


Defies the imagination, doesn’t it?  


I wrote to her to complain.  I do not live in Florida, and I know she doesn’t care what I think, but I wanted her email inbox to be jammed with expressions of outrage.  So I composed the most indignant, venomous, horrified response I could muster (which didn’t take much effort given that my hands were shaking with rage).  An hour or so later, I got a reply.


You know what her form autoreply says?  It cites the New York Times story.  That’s right.   Apparently, because the New York Times blames the victim, it’s okay for her to do it too.  


I hope you will consider emailing her ( and forwarding her response to the Times.  Bad reporting has consequences.  It perpetuates evil by apologizing for perpetrators of violence, and by blaming victims (and their mothers).  It re-injures already grievously injured parties.  Make it stop.


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