Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Guilty until proven innocent?

“Roy Cooper said a word today; the word is INNOCENT. I wanted to make sure everybody got that,” said David Evans’ attorney, Joe Cheshire.

I do not want to be the only one to say this… but FINALLY. Those poor boys… well, not really, I guess they are pretty much our age. I’m talking about the Duke Lacrosse players who were falsely accused of committing a sexual offense and kidnapping. Today, watching the press conference live, my heart went out to each and every one of the players and their families.

While this story lends itself more to a discussion in law class, the media played an enormous role in this case covering and uncovering important facts that played a major role in the decision to exonerate these three men.

It started with intense media coverage following the person making possibly the most mistakes in the case, District Attorney Mike Nifong. In public, he called the boys “a bunch of hooligans” and stated on national television, “I am convinced there was a rape,” after the accuser changed her story.

Interestingly enough today, in the news conference, Reade Seligman’s attorney got up and said he wanted to talk about “heroes” and “cowards.” He first named all of the heroes of the case, no real shockers there. Then… came the shocking statement… at least for me. He named the Durham newspaper. He said their coverage was biased and they followed suit with the district attorney. In a way, I felt like he was saying their biased coverage also had an influence on the people of the community.

If I remember correctly, there was a definite backlash against these boys. I think these men had to prove their innocence from the beginning, rather than the traditional, “innocent until proven guilty” stated in our constitution.

This story ultimately makes me sit back and think about the importance of journalism and how people everywhere are truly influenced by the information we give them. Whether we wanted it or not, I do believe in the beginning of the coverage, we were only getting one side of the story. After seeing the damage done to these players and their families, I, as a journalist, want to be that much more sure all the stories I tell are unbiased and fair.

Ultimately, as seen in this case, someone’s life could depend on the stories we tell.


At Thursday, April 12, 2007, Blogger AJS said...

You're absolutely right. I always think it's tremendously unfair to those accused of crimes that we publish their names all over the place, especially while keeping victims' names private. What will these boys' future fathers-in-law think? Or people doing the hiring at jobs they might apply to? They are tarnished for life, when there was no substantiation to the allegations. I think the media needs to think very seriously about the policy of not publishing the names of so-called "victims" if we want to be about fairness for all.

At Saturday, April 14, 2007, Blogger EJW said...

This is such a difficult issue about whether or not to name the accuser of sexual crimes. On the one hand I think about the cases where the accuser was actually raped. They did not ask for the rape, they did not ask to be judged and forced into the media spotlight. I think it would make people afraid of reporting their rape knowing it could land them in the paper. But, on the other hand, you get situations like the Duke lacrosse team. The players' names were all over the media and this will follow them forever while the accuser's name was withheld.

At Saturday, April 14, 2007, Blogger ji said...

I absolutely agree. I think that the media goes after the juciest part of the story...what will get viewers. ANd in this case, literally and figuratively, the juicy part was splashing the names and faces of these boys all over the television and newspaper. The media basically convicted these boys in my opinion. I am sick of journalists and newsrooms playing judge and jury...I am looking forward to the next Nancy Grace mara-televison-thon on this. If I were those boys, I would have on word on my mind LAWSUIT.

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