The XX Factor

When Journalistic Objectivity Goes Too Far

Libby , I agree with you that the main problem with the New York Times piece on an alleged gang rape of an 11-year-old in rural East Texas is not that James McKinley quoted local residents blaming the victim, but that he presents these quotes without context.  I can’t help but wonder if, while reporting on a gay-bashing event, a reporter who captured residents claiming that the victim brought it on himself would be quoted without comment or framing as unacceptable bigotry.  I was under the impression that gang raping children is generally assumed to be such a horrific crime that reporters don’t have to strike a studied neutral pose, as you would with more overtly controversial issues, but apparently not.

I feel strongly there’s a missed opportunity here.  I grew up in a rural Texas town on the other end of the state, and have more than a passing familiarity with how common it is for these kinds of communities to be shockingly tolerant of gang rape.  I don’t think it’s radical to point out that victim-blaming and assailant-sympathizing in a community sends permission signals to would-be rapists and makes crimes like this likelier to occur.  This could have been an opportunity to write a story examining the relationship between victim-blaming attitudes and the rapes themselves, much in the way that the murder of James Byrd in nearby Jasper in 1998 became an occasion to look at how racism still thrives in the South and created the context for hate crimes.

I sincerely doubt that McKinley intended to give voice to the victim-blaming and assailant-sympathizing going on in Cleveland, Texas.  Maybe he thought the ugliness was so obvious it didn’t need comment.  But, as the reaction at Feministing and Jezebel demonstrates, if that’s what he was thinking, he (or his editor) really misjudged the situation.