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NYTimes response to criticism!

March 11, 2011, 1:58 pm
Gang Rape Story Lacked Balance
By Arthur S. Brisbane
Public Editor's Journal by Arthur S. Brisbane

The story quickly climbed The Times's "most emailed" list but not just because of the sensational facts of the crime involved. "Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town," published on Tuesday, reported the gang rape by 18 boys and men of an 11-year-old girl in the East Texas town of Cleveland.

The viral distribution of the story was, at least in part, because of the intense outrage it inspired among readers who thought the piece pilloried the victim.



. . .

Philip Corbett, standards editor for The Times, told me earlier today that the story focused on the reaction of community residents and that there was no intent to blame the victim. He added, “I do think in retrospect we could have done more to provide more context to make that clear.”

The Associated Press handled the story more deftly, I think. Its piece on the crime also noted the community view that the girl dressed provocatively and even the view of some that the girl may have been culpable somehow. But the AP also quoted someone in the community saying: “She’s 11 years old. It shouldn’t have happened. That’s a child. Somebody should have said, ‘What we are doing is wrong.’”

The Times, I have been told, is working on a followup story. I hope it delves more deeply into the subject because the March 8 story lacked a critical balancing element. If upon further reporting it is found that the community of Cleveland, Tex., universally believes that the 11-year-old girl was culpable in this crime, then that would be remarkable indeed. But if it proved to be the case, The Times should take care to interview mental health and legal experts who can provide context to a story about a vicious sex crime against a young girl.



Public Editor's Journal by Arthur S. Brisbane
About The Public Editor: Arthur S. Brisbane is the readers' representative. He responds to complaints and comments from the public and monitors the paper's journalistic practices. His opinions and conclusions are his own. His column appears at least twice monthly on the Sunday Op-Ed pages. He started his term August 2010.