The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Patriot-News’ editor David Newhouse slammed the New York Times’ Nov. 23 article on an alleged victim of sexual abuse by Jerry Sandusky. The Patriot-News is the newspaper that broke the Sandusky sex abuse story, according to Poynter.
Newhouse argued that the Times’ report provides enough information to identify the boy in question and included irrelevant information about the boy.
“They do not serve the story of Jerry Sandusky. They only serve to make an alleged victim of sexual assault easily identifiable,” Newhouse wrote.
Newhouse juxtaposed the Patriot-News’s reporting with the Times’ reporting. (While Newhouse singled out the Times for specific criticism, but he claimed that “the Times story is not alone. It is just the latest and most prominent example so far of such reporting.”)
Newhouse’s Nov. 23 editorial strongly defends the Patriot-News reporting, writing that Patriot-News reporter “Sara Ganim put the focus where it should be – on the alleged crimes, the pain that this young man says he has suffered, and the alarming frustrations he and his mother describe in trying to report it.”
In response, the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple argued that “The details that so bother Newhouse supply [Times’ reporters] Schweber and Becker’s story with immediacy and authority.” As an example, Wemple cited the Times’ noting that the boy “was taunted by classmates” after it was revealed that he testified in the case against Sandusky.
While iMediaEthics finds that the Times did provide a considerable amount of detail about the boy in question, which may make him easily identifiable to a small community, the justification in including it can be found in this line from the Times, we believe:
“According to prosecutors, Sandusky targeted victims that fit the young boy’s profile, and used gifts and other inducements to establish a relationship and perhaps even trust.”
Wemple noted that even if the Times “killed a few fine points in the story to diminish the boy’s exposure to Google,” the boy has already been identified to his “high-school community.”
The New York Times defended the story and noted that the Times considered the article “careful and sensitive,” according to Wemple. “By not publishing his name, we hoped to preserve some privacy for him in the wider world, despite the fact that his identity is already widely known in the college community,” the Times statement reads.
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For his part, Wemple described Newhouse’s article as having been written from “Pennyslvania’s highest moral promontory” and suggested Newhouse wanted to “grandstand” and “moralize.” Wemple argued that Newhouse could have just privately contacted the Times about his concerns if he “had really been so committed to preserving the privacy of Victim One.”
Wemple indicated that Newhouse ‘s article also served to tell readers that “we had that story” before the Times did, because he noted that the Patriot-News staff has known who the boy in question is “from the very beginning of reporting on the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse story.” Further, Wemple wrote that Newhouse included enough information in his own article criticizing the Times to identify the boy.
We contacted the Patriot-News’ Newhouse asking for more information and response to the criticism. Newhouse referred us to a post on Jim Romenesko’s website (see here) in which he noted that readers have been “amazingly passsionate” in response to his story, but that the Times didn’t respond to the editorial.
Newhouse noted in general, the New York Times “normally exemplifies the highest journalistic standards” and that his “point was that this could have been a very powerful story about how Sandusky befriended boys like Victim One without revealing details that had nothing to do with the allegations but helped to identify him even more widely.”
He argued that while the boy “was already outed locally…the Times story seemed to make a bad situation worse.” We spoke with Newhouse in early December about the editorial. Newhouse told iMediaEthics that he wrote the editorial for the Patriot-News readers, and not for the Times. “We were talking to our readers about how we have been handling the issue,” he said, noting that as he wrote in the editorial, the Times isn’t the only newspaper to have provided what he says is too much information about the victim.
Newhouse added that he “regularly” will publish articles for the Patriot-News readers about how the newspaper reports and behind-the-scenes on certain stories. Newhouse denied that he was moralizing in his articles, instead saying he was “talking to our readers about the journalistic ethics that we bring to our reporting.”
Responding to Wemple’s argument that he provided just as much identifying information about the victim or as much to point readers to the Times’ article, Newhouse noted that the Times readership is much more significant than that of the Patriot-News. iMediaEthics, for example, noted that while the Times mentioned a certain incident relevant to the boy in question, the Patriot-News editorial tells readers where information on that incident could be found.
“I certainly didn’t think I was giving anything away,” Newhouse told iMediaEthics. Newhouse said he wrote the editorial in response to hearing that reporters from two others newspapers were able to identify the boy from the Times’ report. The Times “gave a lot of details … which had nothing to do with Jerry Sandusky,” he said. “I was very careful to not put in my story anything that would help identify.”
He also rejected any suggestion that his editorial was spurred by competitiveness or jealousy.