A story that was a local and an internet crime story made it to the pages of the NY Times written by James McKinley, Jr. Along the way, the story line made a curious turn.
The facts of the story are these: an 11-year-old girl in the small Texas town of Cleveland was gang-raped by about 18 boys and men. We know it happened because there are video records of the events. We know it was rape because 11-year-old children cannot legally consent to sex.
Gang rape is not something that civilized people excuse. Gang rape of children is worse. Yet the treatment the crime received in the NY Times is curious. In the Times, the focus was not on the effect gang rape has on a young girl but the effect that criminal prosecution for this crime has on the perpetrators.
The NY Times is no stranger to stories of gang rape. A few years ago its news and editorial pages were devoted to the accusations of a Durham, NC stripper/prostitute who claimed to have been gang raped by members of the Duke lacrosse team. Those stories focused on the evil that lurks in the hearts of rich white athletes at exclusive colleges. When the accusation turned out to be bogus and the prosecutor punished for pursuing the case for political reasons, the Times treatment was straight out of Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities.”
Was that the reason the Times decided to make this a story about young men having their lives ruined by being accused of a crime? Could it be that they learned a lesson from the Duke Lacrosse case? That seems unlikely. There was no physical evidence in the Duke Lacrosse case; the Cleveland rapes were videotaped. The crime is racially charged, dividing the community.
The tone of the NY Times story mirrors that of Quanell X, leader (according to Wikipedia) of the New Black Panthers in nearby Houston. Like the NY Times reporter, Quanell X focuses on the rapists.
“Listen to me good, you stand by your children and don’t let them convince you to walk away and take a plea deal for some trumped up charges.”
According to a TV reporter, he accused the police of being like the KKK. Like the NY Times reporter Quanell X blamed the girl’s parents. The Times reporter uses a neighbor to introduce the parents fault in this:
“Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?” said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record.
In a classic case of blaming the victim, the NY Times notes:
They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.
New Black Panther Quanell X:
“She lives in another community. If she lives in another community you mean to tell me that the only men in Cleveland Texas that had sex with that girl are black men that’s locked up in that jail.”
Following a public push back to the tone of the original article, the NY Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane promised that the NY Times would print another story that was more properly balanced between blaming the rapists and blaming the 11 year old girl.
Under our system of law, you are innocent until proven guilty. It’s possible that some of the men accused of this gang rape are innocent. It’s instructive that the original story chose to present the rape from the perspective of the New Black Panthers. The episode is racially charged. The girl is Hispanic, the rapists are Black. According to some reports, there is tension between the Hispanic and Black communities, not just in Cleveland. The NY Times, always a bellwether for Liberal opinion, may just have taken sides.
Some may say that this is a teachable moment.