The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

New York Times Tries Again

Posted on | March 29, 2011 | 11 Comments

The first time the New York Times tried to report on the case of an 11-year-old girl gang-raped in Texas, they provoked a feminist firestorm because elements of their story appeared to blame the victim. Now they have tried again and (as even Echidne of the Snakes admits) managed to avoid the most egregious problems with the first story. But as Echidne also notes, the Times still finds it necessary to point out that the victim was tall for her age and wanted to be a fashion model.

However, whereas the first story saw the Times more or less enlisting itself as an advocate for the defense, this time around they feel obliged to mention that the suspects aren’t all a bunch of Boy Scouts:

The police say the girl was raped on at least six occasions, from Sept. 15 to Dec. 3. Nineteen boys and men, ages 14 to 27, have been charged in connection with the rapes. . . .
What begins to emerge is the nightmarish ordeal of a young girl over two and a half months involving an eclectic group of young men, some with criminal records, who shared a powerful neighborhood bond.

OK, so that little admission gets tucked into paragraph six. The reader who is patient enough to keep reading until paragraph 17 — yes, I said, paragraph seventeen — will then be rewarded with this information:

That defendant, Eric B. McGowen, 19, who was on probation for burglary, and two other male teenagers picked her up at her house, and took her to a house in Precinct 20, the affidavits said. . . .
The girl was taken to a blue house with white trim and a heart-shaped welcome sign — a house with a troubled history. The head of the household, Rayford T. Ellis, has a long criminal record and is a registered sex offender; one of his sons, Authur Ellis, 27, was arrested this year on murder charges. Neither man is charged in this case.
The police say a younger son, Rayford T. Ellis Jr., 19, an iron worker known as Mookie, shot and killed a teenager at the same house in August 2008. The younger Rayford Ellis was awaiting trial on manslaughter charges when he was arrested in early February on charges that he had raped the girl. (He has fathered at least five children with four young women, according to paternity suits.)

That stuff might be kind of relevant, don’t you think? In fact, I’d say it’s sufficiently relevant that it should have near the top of the story, along with this from paragraphs 21 and 24:

[Another suspect] Jared L. Cruse, also 18 . . . has since been charged with robbing a grocery store in the next county. . . .
According to indictments, one man accused of participating was Kelvin R. King, 21, who was out on bond while awaiting trial on rape and robbery charges.

So at least four of the rape suspects have also been charged with other crimes, including burglary, robbery, manslaughter and rape. While they’ve managed to avoid the blame-the-victim narrative of their first story about the case, then, what the New York Times has done in this second story is what we in journalism call “missing the lede.” And while the Times managed this time to mention that the victim is Hispanic — the daughter of Mexican immigrants — they once again fail to explain what made this Texas story the subject of national controversy: The accused gang-rapists are all black, and New Black Panther leader Quannell X is claiming racial bias in the case.

But if you weren’t reading Ace of Spades HQ, you might not realize this. And if the facts about the prior records of the suspects were arranged in any coherent manner, this might look like a story about the unfortunate consequences of leniency in the criminal justice system. Let me take a stab at re-writing the lede:

Two suspects in the horrific gang-rape of an 11-year-old Texas girl were out on bond awaiting trial on other charges at the time, while a third suspect was on probation and a fourth has since been arrested for robbery.
Court documents show that four of the 19 rape suspects have records involving other felonies, including accusations of rape and manslaughter, and that a home where prosecutors say the girl was victimized was owned by a registered sex offender whose son and nephew are among those charged in the case.

See? Journalism is not rocket science or neurosurgery.

Maybe the New York Times should let Paul “Climate of Hate” Krugman take a swipe at this Texas story. I’m sure he can find some way to blame this on Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Glenn Beck and the Tea Party.

Has the Times fired Bill Keller yet? Because I’ve got $20 that says Keller gets the axe before May 1. First-quarter losses will be reported in April, and the failure of their new online paywall should be evident PDQ.


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