Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Journalistic Apathy

Good journalists wear their skepticism like a badge of honor. However, as the recent rash of DNA exonerations has shown, when the media fail to be objective in their reporting of questionable criminal cases, a layer of protection for innocent citizens is bypassed.

Coverage of this case by the Texas media was scant. San Antonio Express-News wrote one article on Elizabeth Ramirez' conviction, and three short pieces during the trial of Anna Vasquez, Cassandra Rivera and Kristie Mayhugh. While the newspaper reports are primary "just the facts" reporting, what struck me after reading them was the absolute lack of skepticism. This was a multi-perpetrator, multi-victim assault carried out by 4 young women with no criminal records or history of drug abuse. A woman sexually assaulting pre-pubertal children is a very rare occurrence. A gang of women doing so is rare as a herd of unicorns. Yet the reporters treated this highly unusual case with seeming apathy and nonchalance. There should have been a huge outcry and followup with secondary investigation into the facts of the case. But it never happened. If the women had been heterosexual would the case have been reported differently?

The articles fail to address discrepancies in testimony between the two trials. Notably who held the gun following the alleged assaults. There was no acknowledgment of the fact that there was at least one previous unfounded allegation made by the girls, or that Prosecutor Kazen would not allow the statements of the other three women to be brought into evidence at Elizabeth's trial. The newspaper articles say there was medical evidence brought by Dr. Nancy Kellogg, but fail to mention this evidence was never challenged by defense witnesses. There was no investigation into the accusers or their family background. The evidence was very one-sided and for the most part parroted the prosecutions case. Perhaps court reporters are leery about questioning evidence in trials involving crimes against children. The prosecutor is seen as protecting children and questioning evidence might be seen as protecting child sexual abusers.

The Texas media completely failed these four women in terms of questioning the charges brought against them. When the media have too much faith in the system, and fail to exercise a healthy level of skepticism, innocent people are convicted. Investigative journalism needs to take place pre-conviction to prevent this from happening.

1 comment:

Millie said...

Well said Darrell. The shame is that we are all exposed to false accusations; therefore, we need to take action. What about contacting legislators to demand better and thorough investigations of alleged victims and all witnesses and that the court accepts all the evidence in court? I am aware that evidence against children accusing others of molestations is not admitted in court. The child may have issues, including psychological issues that may prone him or her to lie or imagine things, but the defense is prohibited from bringing that evidence to court. Also the court will not ask for a psychiatric evaluation of the child either.

Given the fact that a convicted sex offender's life is ruined forever and that anyone can be falsely accused by a child, we need to demand that a person is not charged until a deep investigation is conducted, including investigating school records, his or her parents and all witnesses, and the child is evaluated by one or more psychiatrists. Once a person is charged, the odds are against him.