Should the San Diego Union-Tribune have named a woman suing her former employer for sexual harassment?
The newspaper did print her name. And now, the woman’s lawyer and two readers have filed complaints. Adrian Vore, the Union-Tribune readers representative, looked at the issue in his latest column.
The Union-Tribune‘s policy only dictates anonymity in sexual criminal cases. Vore explained, “The U-T does not name victims of sexual offenses in criminal cases, unless the victim chooses to come out publicly.” However, because the case involved civil, not criminal court, that doesn’t apply for the newspaper’s guidelines. Vore noted that the Union-Tribune contacted the woman’s attorney but didn’t hear back before publication.
Union-Tribune managing editor Lora Cicalo noted, according to Vore, that the woman was named in her lawsuit, which was in the public court system. “We are willing to consider other circumstances or facts, but these types of allegations are aired publicly in civil court proceedings, including the names of the litigants,” she is quoted as saying. “The lawsuit is not a criminal case with allegations of sexual assault.”
For his part, Vore argued the name of the woman was newsworthy and fair. “By filing a lawsuit against public agencies and being named in the lawsuit, the woman in essence chose to publicly come out,” he wrote.
The article’s author, Greg Moran, told iMediaEthics he can’t “recall any discussion with my editor” about naming the woman and it was a “routine” story he was assigned to cover.
iMediaEthics asked the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics chairman Andrew Seaman his thoughts on whether to name a civil complainant. Seaman called for “special care” and communication in reporting on stories “involving some type of sexual harassment,” but noted that sometimes the accusers may be identified.
“What’s essential is that journalists discuss the topic with the person or their attorney,” he wrote. “In this case, I was told the attorney didn’t respond to the paper’s initial request. I’d recommend attorney’s respond to media inquiries if they’re concerned about their client’s identity being revealed. I don’t think it should be assumed that it won’t be printed.”
“I think the paper turned to its policies without added information or advocacy from the attorney,” he added.
The woman’s lawyer, Michelle Baker, argued the public wouldn’t go read the court records and find the woman’s name, telling Vore, “I have dealt with multiple TV news organizations who have specifically declined to publish my client’s name, in light of their policies against naming victims of sexual assault.” (Baker told iMediaEthics she declined to comment because “it compounds the matter and encourages attention on this matter that I wish to quash.”)