The Malicious Media?

01.15.13

Does the Media Have a Social Responsibility when Reporting?

Mallary Jean Tenore of The Poynter Institute reflects on the media coverage of two recent stories involving rape of young women. One involves a woman who was gang raped in New Delhi, India, the other a 16-year old girl in Steubenville, Ohio. 

The media have given the young woman in the New Delhi case widespread attention. Her father has said his daughter, whose name he wants the world to know, “didn’t do anything wrong.” One of The Wall Street Journal’s most shared stories last week was titled: “New Delhi Attack: The Victim’s Story.” It details what her hopes and aspirations were, what she had accomplished at a young age, and how hard she worked to pay for her education.

By contrast, the coverage of the Steubenville woman has focused more on what happened to her as a victim and less on who she is as a person...We know, as The New York Times reported, that “she attended a smaller, religion-based school, where she was an honor student and an athlete.” And we know that she was allegedly drunk the night she was raped, though it’s unclear whether that information is relevant or an unintended way to blame the victim.

Regarding media portrayal of the suspects,

The coverage I’ve seen of the men allegedly involved in the New Delhi rape has been largely critical. This Wall Street Journal story, for instance, says two of the suspects have been described as “rowdy, heavy drinkers” who “used to drink while driving, before driving, and on the way home — everywhere.”

Coverage of the suspects in the Steubenville case has been different. Last week, the “Today Show” interviewed the ex-guardians and the attorney of suspect Ma’lik Richmond. In the interview with Matt Lauer, Richmond’s ex-guardians said they’re supportive of him and portrayed him in a positive light. As they talked, childhood photos of Richmond flashed across the screen.

This story brings to mind the Aurora and Newtown shootings. How is it that we know so much about these murderers, but almost nothing about the victims? It is the media's responsibility to report on stories in a manner that reminds us that the victim really matters, and the accused should be forgotten. This should be true whether the event takes place next door or 10,000 miles away.