When Ignorant Fox Reporters Attack

Robin Wallace has a commentary on the Fox News web site about whether or not the media should name the accuser in rape cases such as Kobe Bryant’s. I wonder if Wallace shouldn’t first do a bit more research before writing about the topic. According to Wallace,

Opponents of rape shield laws also argue that victims of other crimes are publicly identified, and that all crime victims make a choice to endure the always painful and difficult experience of the legal process when reporting the crime. Advocates argue that other crimes donÂ’t carry the stigma of rape, and that identifying these victims would stop many women from reporting rapes and sexual assaults.

. . .

Even in a town as small as Eagleton, Colo., — just 3,500 residents — where everyone supposedly already knew who the victim was anyway–they got it wrong. The Kobe Bryant case is actually making the case for rape shield laws—exhibiting in full ugly reality what happens when the identity of a rape victim is not protected.

Rape shield laws have nothing to do with whether or not the media can publish the name of the accuser. Rape shield laws, instead, govern what sort of information can be introduced at trial about the accuser, especially related to her sexual history. As Vail Daily summed up Colorado’s rape shield law,

The Colorado Rape Shield Statute provides, in relevant part, that evidence of specific instances of the victim’s or a witness’ prior or subsequent sexual conduct, as well as reputation evidence of the victim’s or a witness’ sexual conduct, shall be presumed to be irrelevant except in specifically identified circumstances. Irrelevant evidence is not admissible.

Any law that outright banned the media from naming the accuser in a criminal case would almost certainly be unconstitutional. The media generally don’t name accusers based on their own judgment that it’s generally not newsworthy (though there are occasional exceptions).

The only thing Wallace makes a case for is Fox giving her time off until she comes to the realization that she needs to actually understand a topic before writing about it.

Update: I received an e-mail pointing out that a number of states do have Rape Confidentiality Laws, sometimes included as part of their rape shield laws. First, Wallace was writing specifically about the Kobe Bryant case and Colorado has no such provision to my knowledge. Second, rape shield laws generally refer only to laws shielding testimony, not to confidentiality. Third, the reason more states don’t have confidentiality provisions is that the Supreme Court has already ruled them unconstitutional. A state can order that court records mentioning the name of a victim be kept secret, but a state cannot forbid or punish the media for publishing the name of the victim in a rape case.


No Justice Gained by Outing Rape Victims. Robin Wallace, Fox News, August 1, 2003.

Fox News on Yaweh Ben Yaweh

Fox’s Roger Friedman has a story about Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown apparently forming ties with the Black Hebrew cult. The thing that caught my eye about the story was how Friedman describes the case of Hulon Mitchell Jr.,

In 1990, a U.S.-affiliated offshoot sect of Black Hebrews in Miami — led by Yahweh Ben Yahweh, aka Hulon Mitchell Jr. — was indicted for conspiring to commit murder and racketeering. Prosecutors said Yahweh directed followers to commit 14 murders, two attempted murders and the firebombing of a Delray Beach neighborhood. Several of the victims were decapitated with a machete and others had their ears cut off as proof of the slayings.

Mitchell was sentenced to 18 years in jail for racketeering. The murder charges produced a hung jury. Mitchell served 10 years and was released in 2001.

Which, for Fox, is a rather un-sensational way of framing the story. What is left out is that many of the murders ordered by Mitchell were racially motivated — as an initation rite into the cult, members were sent to kill a white person and bring back a body part as proof.

Former NFL player Robert Rozier testified, for example, that under orders from Mitchell he waited outside a New Jersey church and stabbed to death 52 year old Attilio Cicala to death after picking him out at random to fulfill the initiation requirement.

The real kicker, though, is that even though allegations about Mitchell’s involvement in murder and his black supremacist views should have been well known, just a month before his indictment Miami’s mayor declared a “Yahweh Ben Yahweh Day” to highlight Mitchell’s contributions to the city.

It’s simply inconceivable that such a dangerous individual was paroled after serving only 10 years of an 18 year sentence — less than 8 months per victim.


Is Whitney Being Used By a Cult?. Roger Friedman, Fox News, May 28, 2003.

CNN vs. Fox on Breaking News Coverage

Henry Hanks links to this story noting that CNN beat Fox for a change during the coverage of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

The weird part is that the story itself dwells on the location of the anchors. For people who haven’t heard this extreme inside baseball story, CNN anchor Aaron Brown was at a golf tournament and couldn’t make it back to CNN until late in the evening. Tom Brokaw and other anchors managed to drop what they were doing to make it on the airwaves.

This might come as a shock to media analysts, but people watch the news, well … to watch news, and on CNN kicked Fox’s butt when it came to shuttle coverage.

I flipped back and forth between the two for awhile, but it was no contest — Fox was about 20 to 30 minutes behind CNN. Fox’s anchors and reporters were offering uninformed speculation on matters that CNN had already provided uptodate information on. CNN was airing the infamous contrail footage while Fox anchors were still on the air describing second hand reports of the apparent breakup of the shuttle. In fact I found myself thinking, “Aren’t they monitoring CNN?”

Frankly, I’ve never been impressed by Fox’s abilities at covering news events as they happen. They’re much more interesting for their political commentary and analysis after all the facts have been settled, but they really need to improve their ability to handle breaking news.

Serial Killer Celebrities

Henry Hanks points to a Howard Kurtz column on the most idiotic piece of sniper-related coverage yet — the letter from serial killer David Berkowitz sent to Fox News reporter Rita Cosby.

According to Kurtz, Cosby sent a sychophantic letter to Berkowitz,

“Your personal story and spiritual growth inspired me to write to you,” Cosby told Berkowitz in a letter. Sometimes, she wrote, “the Lord calls on individuals at various times to serve him and serve his people. . . . I believe as a Christian your help is a great service. . . .

“You have a testimony that must be heard. . . . Our world is crying and you can help.”

Cosby insists she wasn’t trying to diminsh Berkowitz’s crimes and reported on Berkowitz’s criminal record.

But she’s missing the point, just like the cable news channels churning around 24/7 coverage of the Maryland-area murderer are doing — the media is turning the shooter in this case into a celebrity, much as they turned Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold into celebrities after Columbine.

Look, killing other people is not a particularly difficult thing to do. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to take a rifle, wait in a wooded area, and pick off someone from less than 100 yards.

The tarot card left behind at the scene of one of the killings supposedly said “I am god.” The killer should have added in parenthesis “or at least the media thinks I am.”

Cosby’s message to Berkowitz is especially infuriating. Her basic premise is that since Berkowitz killed several people, that it is appropriate to treat him as some sort of expert on serial killing. What’s next? Larry King interviewing Berkowitz for his views on the best way to taunt police during a serial killing?