Some Ask, Is Anonymity Still the Best Policy?

April 17, 2007 | | Comments Off on Some Ask, Is Anonymity Still the Best Policy?

Last Wednesday, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dropped all charges against the three Duke lacrosse players accused of raping a stripper one year ago. On Thursday, The News & Observer of Raleigh “outed” the accuser, identifying her by name. They were not the only to do so – Fox News, The New York Post, and other major newspapers have followed suit.

The media generally follows a voluntary policy of not identifying accusers or victims of sexual assault. However, The News & Reporter as well as other news agencies have stated that since the Attorney General declared that no rape took place, there is no victim, and thus, no need to protect any victim’s identity. Surely, in this case, they are not wrong. The accuser was given a full year of media protection while her claims were thoroughly investigated, and perhaps even “helped along” by a not-so-ethical district attorney. Her identity was only released after a full investigation which turned up nothing but empty accusations.

But the Duke case is not your typical rape accusation case. The nature of the accusations, parties involved, and social circumstances all combined to create a remarkable anomaly. Despite this case’s divergence from the norm, however, some media outlets, including the Associate Press, have stated that they will review their disclosure policies to determine whether a broad policy of anonymity remains appropriate.

Martin Pinales, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers supports these evaluations, saying that the function of newspapers is not to be “politically correct” but rather to be accurate. Furthermore, Pinales stated that “[t]he First Amendment is not there for the press to say, ‘We’re going to abide by self imposed restrictions’ – the First Amendment is there for the public’s right to know.” I’m not sure Pinales’ characterization of the First Amendment is completely accurate, as the right to refrain from speaking ought stand on equal footing with the right to speak at all. Furthermore, the First Amendment rights include the right to free speech and press – but not necessarily the right to know.

Regardless, other news agencies continue to decline to identify the accuser, including CNN, the New York Times, and, for now, the AP. Representatives for the National Organization for Women and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network hope to keep it that way. Both organizations are concerned that a change in media’s accuser disclosure policy will discourage legitimate victims with actual claims from coming forward.


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