Posted on | December 17, 2013 | 18 Comments
The headline quote is from a very long Village Voice interview with former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis about the sexual accusations against pop singer R. Kelly. Since the release of the singer’s latest album, Black Panties, DeRogatis has quite evidently become angry at the way Kelly’s predatory conduct has been glossed over, or even tacitly endorsed, by some music journalists.
Part of the problem, as the interview makes clear, is the issue of race: “Kelly never misbehaved with a single white girl who sued him or that we know of. Mark Anthony Neal, the African-American scholar, makes this point: one white girl in Winnetka and the story would have been different. No, it was young black girls and all of them settled [their lawsuits against Kelley]. They settled because they felt they could get no justice whatsoever. They didn’t have a chance.”
That’s only part of the problem, however: Civil lawsuits are a poor substitute for criminal prosecution. Because Kelly’s accusers filed civil suits and accepted settlements rather than making criminal charges, the impression was created that the crimes alleged against Kelly weren’t actually crimes, and that the girls involved were just ”bitches, hos, and gold diggers,” as DeRogatis says.
Another part of the problem, DeRogatis explains, is that many music journalists aren’t very good journalists. That is to say, they’ve never done any actual reporting outside the world of record reviews and publicity-oriented interviews, and therefore don’t really know how to report a crime story:
A lot of people who are critics are fans and don’t come with any academic background, with any journalistic background, research background. Now, nobody knows everything, and far be it from me to say you’ve got to be a journalist or you have to have studied critical theory in the academy. Part of what we do is journalistic. Get the names right, get the dates right, get the facts right. Sometimes, on a very rare number of stories, there’s a deeper level of reporting required.
Some of our young critical peers, they’re 24 and all they know of Kelly’s past is some vague sense of scandal, because they were introduced to him as kids via Space Jam. A lot of your reporting on this is not online, it is not Google-able. Collective memory is that he “just” peed in a girl’s mouth. . . .
I feel that a lot of younger journalists came up through blogs, not journalism school. They are fearful to write about it because they don’t know what they can say, what language they can use, if they can be sued for even acknowledging charges.
Now, let’s be clear: This is not about whether or not you went to journalism school. I didn’t go to j-school, nor did a lot of the journalists I’ve worked with over the years. In fact, many editors will tell you not to major in journalism, but to study history or political science.
The point is, most of the skills involved in reporting can only be learned on the job in real-world situations. How do you learn to do cops-and-courts reporting? By doing cops-and-courts reporting. Unfortunately, a lot of people in the world of journalism today have never had the experience of working at a small newspaper where a staff writer has to be able to do all kinds of reporting: If the cops-and-courts guy is out sick, somebody in the newsroom draws the short straw and has to go get the daily blotter report down at the sheriff’s department.
Anyway, as Jessica Hopper says, a lot of the original reporting about the accusations against R. Kelly is “not Google-able,” which is another problem of 21st-century journalism: The absurdly lazy belief that everything worth knowing about any subject will show up on the first page of a Google search. Everything on Wikipedia is accepted as gospel, and nothing else matters.
At the end of her interview with Jim DeRogatis, Hopper embeds multiple Scribd documents with Lexis-Nexis printouts of the original Sun-Times reporting about the accusations against R. Kelly and she quotes DeRogatis about Kelly’s crimes:
Rapes, plural. It is on record. Rapes in the dozen. So stop hedging your words and when you tell me what a brilliant ode to pussy Black Panties is, then realize that the next sentence should say: “This, from a man who has committed numerous rapes.” The guy was a monster! Just say it! We do have a justice system and he was acquitted. OK, fine. And these other women took the civil-lawsuit route. He was tried on very narrow grounds. He was tried on a 29-minute, 36-second videotape. He was tried on trading child pornography. He was not tried for rape. He was acquitted of making child pornography. He’s never been tried in court for rape, but look at the statistics. The numbers of rapes that happened, the numbers of rapes that were reported, the numbers of rapes that make it to court and then the conviction rate. I mean, it comes down to something minuscule. He’s never had his day in court as a rapist. It’s 15 years in the past now, but this record exists.