Quietly over the weekend, under the twitter radar and cable news flash alerts, “Casey Anthony” attorney J. Cheney Mason has joined the plaintiff’s team in pressing a civil case against Donald Trump alleging he raped a 13-year old 20 years ago.
Perhaps “celebrity” is what it will take to break the news media’s reluctance to report the case. That reporting would be welcome because while the suit may stand or fail, one journalistic point is clear:
It needs to be reported -responsibly – by responsible news media. It is one of ten million facts swirling about this campaign — but it is a fact and deserves more than the informal “boycott” the major news media seem to have imposed.
To ignore it is to empower some bad trends:
- Those who would hush up a discussion of sexual assaults and think “rape” is an unmentionable word not to be discussed in public.
- Those ill-intended trolls who bend and twist facts, left and right, to their own cause, in posts and tweets.
There are certain good rules in journalism regarding any civil suit.
One of them is: Never publish a story about someone threatening a suit. It’s a cheap way to make cheap headlines. It makes serious what may be trivial and gives heft to lightweights.
It’s a rule thrown out the door in the coverage of Donald Trump (850,000 hits on “Trump Threatens Suit”) and perhaps there is a special rule for Presidential candidates which does allow such license. It is one of his trademarks of course.
But why would the news media not cover a suit properly filed against a presidential candidate? Specifically, this one, which now includes two witnesses who say Trump raped a 13-year-old and a third witness corroborating discussions of the incident?
There are a couple of factors to consider holding the story:
- Rape is among the most serious crimes.
- This happened 20-years ago.
- The news media and prosecutors have been wrong on rape accusations. Look at the Rolling Stone story. Look at the Duke prosecutions.
- This could be a campaign gimmick.
And sure, those are good questions before rushing into print. But there also are countervailing journalist points for printing:
- Silence from victims is not new. Coming forward against such a powerful and litigious figure takes courage — and sometimes years of therapy.
- The news media consistently downplayed allegations against Bill Cosby dating back to the 1970sand sloughed off coverage of “Jane Doe” civil actions against him.
- We still have at least some semblance of a “rape culture” that deep sixes rape kits, let’s college sports stars skate, and sweeps suits under the carpet.
- Trump is no different than Clinton. (Multiple news stories during the campaign about sexual abuse.)
- Trump himself has made the suppression of women coming forth in such cases a major campaign issue.
Those are very large points. There should be a good discussion around the news desk.
But the discussion needs to take place.
And then, the Associated Press and every other decent news outlet in this land should do a by-the-book bit of beat reporting.
The attorneys and the court system will sort it out.
The press does not need to censor the news.
It does not need to be a long story. It does not need to be an expose.
Just print the facts.
We’ll figure it out from there.
But you need to do your job first, please.