It's not just The New York Times coverage of the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl that's like a blueprint about how not to report on rape. Today, TV got in on the act. Updated with response from the Times.
The Houston Chronicle reporter who appears to have done the most in-depth coverage of the case (including an egregious analysis of the child's Facebook page) was on CNN today. We understand that it can be awkward or unsettling to talk about horrible things on live TV and the reporter was trying to burnish what few details are known, but was it really necessary to go on at length about how the basketball team in the town is third-ranked but lost this week after some of its players were charged with the rape of a child?
In this video from NBC News, a defense attorney involved in the case says that the 11-year-old child was a "willing participant" in a series of rapes that may have involved up to 28 people, to his knowledge. Lest anyone need to hear this again: An eleven-year-old cannot consent to sexual activity, and there is no such thing as a willing participant to gang rape. Warning: There's also stomach-turning, gratuitous footage of ripped condom wrappers and the scene of the crime.
Meanwhile, a petition demanding The Times apologize for how it covered the case — which included copious handwringing about the boys' future and discussion of how the girl acted older than 11 — has nearly 4,000 signatures at this writing. We've asked the Times for a response and will update you when we hear back.
UPDATE: A Times spokeswoman says:
We are very aware of and sensitive to the concerns that arise in reporting about sexual assault.
This story is still developing and there is much to be learned about how something so horrific could have occurred. But nothing in our story was in any way intended to imply that the victim was to blame. Neighbors' comments about the girl, which we reported in the story, seemed to reflect concern about what they saw as a lack of supervision that may have left her at risk.
As for residents' references to the accused having to "live with this for the rest of their lives," those are views we found in our reporting. They are not our reporter's reactions, but the reactions of disbelief by townspeople over the news of a mass assault on a defenseless 11-year-old.