Monday, November 09, 2009


The media generally does not withhold information as a matter of official policy. But, to my knowledge, every major newspaper in the country has an official policy of not reporting the names of accusers in rape or sexual assault cases. (I’m not aware of any paper that has a policy of refusing to report the name of suspects in sexual assault cases.) Though this practice stems from good intentions (a belief that the reporting of accusers’ names will make some real victims unlikely to report the crime), the net effect subtly shades reporting in favor of the suspect’s guilt.

With that extraordinary backdrop in mind—that every newspaper already has a policy of framing coverage of sexual assault cases in such a way that suggests readers should accept the validity of the accuser’s story—comes a recent Chronicle letter from a UNC biostatistics professor named Eric Bair. Bair criticized the Chronicle for using the word “alleged” to describe events in an article detailing the filing of rape charges against a Duke police officer. “Can’t we just say,” the UNC professor mused, “‘she was raped’”?

Bair’s letter explained his reasoning. He conceded that the suspect, Officer Webster Simmons, “is innocent until proven guilty,” and that it was acceptable for the Chronicle to write that the accuser had identified Webster as her alleged attacker. And he further admitted—albeit obliquely—that the Duke campus had first-hand experience with a woman who said “she was raped” having spectacularly lied about the claim.

Nonetheless, Bair described the version of events presented by Simmons’ accuser as “the victim”—not even “alleged” victim—as entitled to belief by the media. (Why newspapers should accept as true what an accuser says about an alleged crime but not trust her identification of the alleged criminal Bair didn’t say.) The Chronicle’s using terms such as “the alleged attack,” “the alleged assault,” “the alleged rape” and “the alleged victim” could be seen as “creating an environment where all women who report a rape are presumed to be liars until they can prove otherwise.” Indeed, continued Bair, “a cynic might suggest that the editors of the Chronicle believe that the reports of rape victims are inherently unreliable.” (A non-cynic might suggest that, in the aftermath of Crystal Mangum’s fantastic lies, the Chronicle has, appropriately, decided to be neutral in reporting the specifics of allegations of rape.)

The policy, Bair concluded, could be seen as “casting doubt on the credibility of rape victims generally or discouraging other women from reporting incidents of rape.” In other words: to not discourage true rape victims from coming forward, newspapers must not only not report their names but must accept everything they say (apart, apparently, from the identity of their alleged assailant) as true.

In response to several pointed comments in the Chronicle discussion thread, Bair held his ground, suggesting that because the Chronicle doesn’t regularly use the word “alleged” to describe other crimes, it shouldn’t do so in describing sexual assault. I e-mailed Bair to ask him if his proposed standard didn’t excuse the (widely condemned) early, credible coverage of the Nifong/Mangum lies. He graciously responded, suggesting that based on his knowledge of the lacrosse case, “there was virtually no physical evidence to corroborate the woman’s [Mangum’s] claims of rape and that the entire thing was the result of a district attorney who was afraid of losing reelection of he didn’t prosecute the case.”

The issue, he continued, is a “difficult” one—balancing the public’s right to know about violent crimes versus protecting the rights of the accused. However, whatever standard a particular newspaper (or the media generally) chooses to adopt, I think it should be applied consistently . . . If the Chronicle were describing every single crime report as an ‘alleged’ incident, I wouldn’t have a major issue with the reporting. However, the fact that they only seem to be doing this in a particular report about rape suggests that the author in question or the editorial board of the Chronicle believe that reports of rape are intrinsically less credible than reports of other crimes. Given that many women are already afraid to report rape cases for fear that they will not be believed, I find that to be very troubling.”

But, of course, the burden of proof about whether a crime occurred in sexual assault differs from that of most other crimes. Take, for instance, murder: police investigate the crime only when they discover a body (or, in highly unusual cases, when they conclude that a missing person was in fact killed). Or robbery: police make a charge only after their investigation discovers that something was, in fact, robbed. Or kidnapping: police make an arrest only after their investigation produces evidence that someone was kidnapped.

With regard to sexual assault, on the other hand, North Carolina law (and that of most other states) requires no corroborating evidence: a person can be convicted of rape solely on the basis of the accuser’s testimony and in-court identification (even if the accused is, say, on a videotape more than a mile away at the time of the alleged “crime”).

Because a lower burden of proof is necessary to bring charges in a sexual assault case, the range of possible defenses is much wider. A suspect accused of murder can’t credibly claim that the victim wasn’t actually murdered. Except in highly unusual cases, a suspect in an armed robbery can’t credibly claim that the victim or institution wasn’t robbed. But in a rape case, a central line of defense can be—and often is—that no crime occurred in the first place. Bair’s standard suggests that newspapers should unequivocally declare that such a line of defense is false, by accepting as true the accuser’s claim of being attacked.

The issue is, as Bair suggests, a “difficult” one. But it is made more difficult by the media’s more general policy in rape cases of not reporting all the facts by withholding information about the accuser’s identity. Given that most sexual assault reporting already tilts toward the accuser, it’s hard to fault the Chronicle for not electing to accept, from the beginning, everything the accuser says (apart from the ID) as absolutely true.

hat tip: Anon.


skwilli said...

I'm not sure I'm any less confused than I was before the post, and that isn't your fault. A confusing topic made more confusing by political correctness and political agendas! Who would have ever thunk it?

Archivist said...

Labeling an accuser as the "victim" before a single scrap of evidence has been admitted at trial, much less an adjudication of guilt, is breathtaking in its error. Such reporting serves to masquerade an allegation as fact.

Such a description does a grave disservice to (1) the presumed innocent accused of such crimes since, by necessity, they must be guilty if their accusers are, in fact, "victims"; (2) actual rape victims, because we trivialize rape when we include among its victims women who might only be false accusers; and (3) the readers of the newspaper, who are entitled to accurate reporting but receive something less than that when reporters transform a rape accuser into a rape victim.

The only fair manner of reporting on these cases is to refer to accusers as exactly what they are: accusers. We must implore news reporters to exercise greater care in reporting on such stories, and to show sensitivity to the presumed innocent and their families, by not suggesting that the trial is over even before it has begun.

The Hounds of TASSers'ville said...

A little off-topic, but notable:

Duke professor Gary Hull has authored "Muhammed: the 'Banned' Images," which is according to FIRE's abstract :
"A defiance against censors, terror-mongers, and their Western appeasers."

The banning of the photos from Klausen's book by Yale University Press was extraordinary, though far from surprising. It simply was another illustration of the further degradation of higher education by PC forces which is known all to well over in Wonderland.

That a professor from an insitution that gave us the Group of 88 metanarrative should take up the banner is uplifting, yet considering the actions taken against Klausen, we wonder how long it shall last. We can already imagine Miriam Cooke frothing at the mouth and Lubiano sharpening her claws to make sure that Hull never again strays from the template.

Posted by Hound No. 2
The Hounds of TASSers'ville

Chris Halkides said...

I have a slightly tangential comment. A lawyer from Eugene, OR has written on his blog that the phrase "innocent until proven guilty" is incorrect. It is better to say "innocent unless proven guilty." The use of the word until makes it sound inevitable that guilt will be established.


Anonymous said...

Is Bair a Communist?

Anonymous said...

You're not actually correct to say that rape is different from other crime because of the lack of corroboration. Often there will be no physical evidence corroborating a robbery. (In many robberies, the thief ditches the stolen items before being caught.) The same goes for assaults and ADWs. (The first thing a criminal may do is to ditch the gun -- and sometimes there may be no noteworthy physical injuries.)

Deklan Singh said...

"Presumed innocent unless proven guilty, regardless of allegations" would seem to work.

As for all the "biostatisticians" out there(HOLLA!), when did it become so difficult to locate a dictionary and so easy to hold the rest of society to such low expectations for being able to locate one themselves?

"Alleged" is not some kind of unexplained phenomena. It is not a UFO. It is not a weird look that someone gives you in a checkout line. It is not confusing. It is a word, that has a definition that everyone can understand if they so choose. It is a word that is apt when discussing any assertion by one person that another has done something.

Jamal Matsuzaka said...

Let's be careful not to throw our favorite "forthcoming" """intellectual""" (really there aren't enough quotation marks to do this person justice) with the issue of satirizing the prophet with peace and blessings upon his name.

The forthcoming one can just stay just stay angry, point to the past, make unfounded accusations, and she knows everyone will leave her alone.

Hunger and war and death will not leave alone the millions in countries throughout the world who have little else to cling to but the doctrines of peace and kindness to others that the prophet gave them.

We should let the PC police have this one. Defaming their prophet is simply unkind in every sense of the word. On this playing field, there is no victory from winning.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it is a difficult question.

I got mugged in Philly a long time ago. I know I was mugged. I know I was a victim. It would have been perfectly normal, imo, for any interested party to classify me as a victim because there is an assumption that victims do not lie about their claim.

We struggle with this victim classification question because there is frequently no, or very limited, accountability for false accusers.

Road Kill

Kilgore said...

Well said KC.

One Spook said...

As I read Professor Bair's comments that further expand his views beyond his original OpEd, my sense is that he is advocating consistency in crime reporting.

It would seem to make good logical sense that, given the presumption of innocence for all crimes committed, all the acts of any accused should be properly described in news reports as "alleged" regardless of the type of crime.

I do not believe that a different reporting standard should apply to a case of robbery, as in the example used in this post. There are plenty of instances of "fake" robberies where persons have conspired by making false charges of robbery in order to collect an insurance settlement.

Additionally, in many robberies police have no evidence that a robbery occurred other than the statement of the alleged victim.

In Bair's comments, he cites several instances of robbery reports where the acts were not described as "alleged."

Given that there are false accusers in crimes of rape and false accusers in crimes of robbery, I can see no logic in reporting an alleged rape or an alleged robbery any differently, or in reporting about the alleged accusers in either crime, differently.

One Spook

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to the idea, in cases of sexual assualt, of reporting neither the identities of the 'alleged' nor the 'accused.'

It sounds like the only fair solution argued for here is to also reveal the alleged's identity. Why not initially protect both sides?

Anonymous said...

Unrelated, except by the tenuous connection to "media."

I received a request from the Herald-Sun for an interview (related to the book mentioned above).

Here is my response:

"I will not cooperate with the Herald- Sun because of the injustices the paper committed against my lacrosse students, coach Pressler and his family."

Gary Hull

Mary said...

Years ago a close friend of mine was raped, beated, sodomized, tortured and left, for dead, naked in a five "animals"....I refuse to call them men. She survied, with horrible scars, both internal and external. Mentally, she was never the same. Four of the five were caught and collectively they spent a total of 12 years in prison.
The defense attorney told the jury that the "victim" was asking for trouble because she was out so late in the evening and because she had the gall to wear high heels. (my sarcasm...)
Rape is a crime of unspeakable violence. I know....I saw its aftermath first-hand at the hospital when my friend was found.
In spite of my rage and lingering bitterness, I believe that accusers and accused deserve equal fair unbiased treatment by the media. Say the name of the alledged victim who makes an allegation toward the alledged accused. (who are also named.) It is fair to say that women have been blistered by defense lawyers who say "she was asking for IT". However, as long as we refuse to name the accuser, we are not directly confronting the stigma and naming it for the absolute cruelty that it is. My friend almost lost her life, so I figure she ought to have a pretty good "cred" for an opinion on this subject. She said, and I quote, "Hell, no, I wouldn't want my name hidden.....I have nothing to hide, I did nothing wrong, and I don't need invisibility!!"

jamil hussein said...

Gang88 has been busy in NYC..
Isn't this a hate crime (and worthy of the 100 year in prison)?

A prominent Columbia architecture professor punched a female university employee in the face at a Harlem bar during a heated argument about race relations, cops said yesterday.

Police busted Lionel McIntyre, 59, for assault yesterday after his bruised victim, Camille Davis, filed charges.

McIntyre and Davis, who works as a production manager in the school's theater department, are both regulars at Toast, a popular university bar on Broadway and 125th Street, sources said.

The professor, who is black, had been engaged in a fiery discussion about "white privilege" with Davis, who is white, and another male regular, who is also white, Friday night at 10:30 when fists started flying, patrons said.

mb said...

"Why newspapers should accept as true what an accuser says about an alleged crime...Bair didn’t say."

There is of course a corollary to this, i.e., that in these types of "he said/she said" cases, if we unequivocably accept the accuser's word as true, then we must also reject the accused word because it is false. Thus, completing the oft-repeated feminist mantra that "women never lie" produces "men always lie." Which is really what the G88 have been saying from the start of this fiasco.

And with that we see the extent of the bias inherent in PC media, academia, etc.

Anonymous said...

jamil hussein said at 1:44 PM...
Gang88 has been busy in NYC..
Isn't this a hate crime (and worthy of the 100 year in prison)?

A prominent Columbia architecture professor punched a female university employee in the face at a Harlem bar during a heated argument about race relations, cops said yesterday.

Hate crime, jamil? The only one who would be charged with that is the woman.

Like Obama told us about the Fort Hood terrorist, the punchy professor (was he seeking validation as a REAL "thugniggaintellectual"?) in this case was "stressed" by the white racist lady.

Another white racist who was also punched admitted that he hadn't satisfied the black professor that he was "doing enough about white privilege". It's an open and close case of "stressing a beloved and protected minority group member".

So the white racist professor was lucky she was only sucker punched.

Remember, diversity is our strength and only politically-incorrect white people are evil.


P.S. (And KC will continue to believe that academicians can reform academia. Earth to KC: They already have.)

Anonymous said...

At least, I must give Prof. Blair credit for having the courage to answer KC's email, and for his humility in admitting that, when it comes to the ethics and standards of journalism (which was his topic here), he actually does not even claim to know what he is talking about.

I would not press the distinctions between robbery and rape, KC; rather, I would concede that the Chronicle should have been more circumspect in its description of a "reported robbery," or someone "stating" they were robbed, or that there was an "alleged robbery". This is no insult to the (claimed) victim -- it is just good sense, and following the libel laws.

Of course, Prof. Blair should not be using the flawed work of student reporters, in their half-baked coverage of a robbery story, to establish his presumptions about how to report alleged rapes.

"Alleged" is correct, for both robbery and rape; conclusive statements are wrong (until conviction or guilty plea), and careless student reportage about a robbery should not be the basis for future rules about describing (ALLEGED) rapes.

To flat-out report that every rape allegation is valid and real, is incredibly unethical, illegal and irresponsible, especially when the alleged perpetrators are named. "Sensitivity" to alleged victims, need not result in stupidity -- and libel.

Prof. Blair, please leave the journalism ethics arguments, to the journalists. Thanks.

Locomotive Breath said...

Off topic, yet strangely related, the Duke Chronicle today published an article about the dangers of life online (Facebook/Twitter) for college athletes.

It included the following gratuitous slap at Ryan McFadyen.

Just four years after the intense scrutiny of the Duke Lacrosse trial, and its now-infamous misuse of technology in Ryan McFadyen’s email, a less than vigilant social media policy could leave the Blue Devils with a media circus of its own.

In response to that I posted the following.

You'd better be clear as to who misused the technology. McFadyen sent a private email to some teammates, not an open post to the world on facebook or twitter. It could have just as easily been a scribbled note that was stolen from the recipients' room.

The full email had a vulgar and obvious reference to the book/movie American Psycho but no bearing on the (false) rape accusation. The Durham Police knew that but quoted it out of context in an application for a subpoena to search McFadyen’s room because they could make it public that way. The Police knew McFadyen had nothing to do with it, but their goal was to inflame the situation and continue the investigation as their case was collapsing around them. Brodhead summarily suspended McFadyen while refusing to meet with any member of the lacrosse team or their parents.

The question that has never been properly answered by Duke is how that private email ended up in the hands of the police without a subpoena. THAT was the misuse of technology and is exactly the kind of thing Duke's trying cover up. That includes Duke turning over to the police the keycard records of the team, again without a subpoena. But it will all be discovered during the litigation. Remember that the next time someone claims the lawsuits are "all about the money".

Duke students, just remember how little Duke respected the privacy of those students and look to your own.

It was immediately deleted. I posted it several times. It was deleted. OTHER posters took to complaining about it being deleted and posting it for me. The Chronicle is now apparently firmly attached to Brodhead's backside.

Anonymous said...

To Locomotive Breath @ 8:15PM...

Excellent and factual rebuttal.
I hope KC and others help you shine a bright spotlight on this shameful behavior by the Chronicle.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Prof. Hull.

And my compliments and respect to Prof. Bair for continuing a forthright and civil intellectual discussion.

Anonymous said...


There is one instance that I've come a cross in which a newspaper actually did print the name of a false rape accuser and withheld the name of the man she accused.

It happened last year, when the Seattle Times reported that a young woman pleaded guilty to falsely accusing a local college professor of breaking into her home and raping her. The Seattle Times article stated that the professor spent nine days in jail while her allegation was being investigated, and was suspended from his job (which he got back after she confessed).

The judge sentenced the false accuser to 365 days in jail with 357 days suspended (eight days actual) and fined her $5,000 with $4,750 suspended, plus community service and probation. She was also ordered to pay the professor's attorney fees.

Her actual conviction was of making false statements to a public servant.

The King County Prosecutor's Office acknowledged that a mistake was made; but the accuser was "an extremely articulate and credible victim", according to the county Sheriff's Office. She produced e-mails from the professor which she had altered, in which he supposedly confessed "romantic feelings" and seemingly offered to raise her course grade if she agreed to "a few conditions." She also alleged that he showed up randomly at several locations which she frequented.

She further admitted that she had made up a phony court order on her computer and forged a judge's signature.

Her accusations fell apart when a sexual-assault examination failed to show any evidence that she had been raped, the "court order" did not match any King County filings, and the e-mail texts were shown to have been changed.

The article quoted the judge as calling this case one of his "saddest", and one that would make it harder for real sexual-assault victims to make their cases.


I feel that when a newspaper does the right thing by a victim of a false rape charge, that newspaper should receive a kudo. The Seattle Times did it right. It's too bad that other newspapers have not followed suit.

-- Gus W.

Anonymous said...

No reason to leave her name out now. Unbelievable that her "punishment" was so benign. I assume she'll never know what she put that professor through or how it likley changed him.

The Seattle false accuser's name is Katherine M. Clifton.

The URL for the article published 3/19/08 is:

RL alum '75

Anonymous said...

And in the Seattle case - the only thing that the professor can be thankful for is that his name was not in the paper - though one can be sure that the charges lodged against him were common knowledge in the academic community. So, for his accusers false accusations, what justice was meted? She was required to pay his attorney fees and he got his job back (with missed pay?) but his reputation was still harmed and what retribution did he receive did he receive for being held for the time he was held in jail? It would seem that the woman gotr a mere slap on the wrist for a number of offenses.

Anonymous said...

"The media generally does not withhold information as a matter of official policy."
I look at the referenced link once or twice a week. Occasionally I do a Google search on the articles and find little or nothing.
Yet I somehow feel the reports are real and posts articles that the "media" ignores or conveniently is ignorant of.
What do you think?

No Justice, No Peace said...

“If your run a a financial institution that in effect can bring down the system unless the Federal government steps in….if you get to that point then something very bad should happen to you. I don’t think you should walk away with a lot of money or even ten percent of your net worth.” – Warren Buffett, Monday, November 16, 2009

I immediately thought of Duke University's Bob Steele and Jamie Gorelick.

Was Mr. Buffett referring to Bob Steele? Steele certainly qualifies: the U.S. Treasury, Wachovia bank, and the Duke Endowment and DUMAC, LLC. How have those institutions performed under Mr. Steele’s watch?

By the way the DUMAC website only presents the ten year annualized returns and NOT the year over year as well. That of course, is fundamentally dishonest because a year-over-year analysis enables one to measure the return against other funds during the same economic meltdown that Steele and Gorelick helped create.

What about Jamie Gorelick? She, having no background in finance, was named Vice Chairman of Fannie Mae. She famously stated, "We believe we are managed safely." Under her watch Fannie Mae improperly delayed recognition of income and improperly classified certain assets. She, of course, personally realized millions in bonuses. That was a $10 billion accounting scandal and DOES NOT include the decisions made to radically expand their lending practices with reserves that are significantly less than required by a federally chartered bank.

And what about the separation wall she established to prevent the foreign intelligence community and criminal investigative communities from collaborating? Wasn’t that policy determined to be a root cause of the 9/11 attack.

Please remind me, is the failure or our system larger or smaller than the failure of Enron? What has become of these “leaders”? Have they made “a lot of money”?

Who hired Gorelick to represent Duke? Wasn’t it Steele and his Board of Trustees?

Were there a top-twenty ranking of those who have authorship in our current economic malaise, it is likely that both Steele and Gorelick would be near the top of that list.

Who is paying for their mistakes? They certainly have not.

Anonymous said...

RL Alum '75 @ 2:25 PM:

Good point about not withholding the accuser's name.

She did get off pretty lightly, compared to the years in prison the professor could have been sentenced to. But she did have to pay for her crime -- and I suspect his attorney costs were substantial. And if she fails to pay her fine or all of his attorney fees, she faces a lot more jail time and much larger fine. I don't think this was merely a slap on the wrist, unless she is wealthy.

-- Gus W.

Anonymous said...

Now that he's been acquitted, I find it amusing there's been no major followup by any of the major news outlets on the story. "We'll report sensational media, but when it turns out to be false, we won't post any follow-up" seems to be the common consensus, except for this 1 lone outlet: