I generally leave the blogging to my students, but a story “breaking” today leaves me compelled to write.

I’m among one of many that’s spouted “Google before you tweet is the new think before you speak.”  In this case, a horrific story about a Judge making insensitive comments at a rape sentencing in 2008 is breaking throughout the mainstream media.  Why four years later?

Because the California Commission on Judicial Performance just released its order censuring (‘publicly admonishing’) Judge Johnson.

In particular, I’m going to single out New York Magazine’s Adam Martin as most irresponsible reporter of the day.

Adam’s article claims:

It’s only coming out now because the California Commission on Judicial Performance finally decided to admonish him publicly — he’s still on the bench, and hasn’t commented.”  (emphasis mine)

No Adam, the exact comments came out in October 2008.  Credit where credit is due, OCWeekly’s R. Scott Moxley broke the story on October 30, 2008.

Moxley wrote:

There’s no mystery about Johnson’s thoughts. During the sentencing hearing, the judge explained that he did not believe the woman, whom we’ll call Jane Doe, had been raped. According to transcripts, he stated that Doe’s vagina had not been “shredded” during the sexual assault, an indication in his mind that she’d given some sort of consent.

“If someone doesn’t want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down,” the judge opined. “The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard nothing about that in this case. That tells me that the victim in this case, although she wasn’t necessarily willing, she didn’t put up a fight.”

That statement is so outrageous it’s reminiscent of the cockamamie theories offered by defense lawyers during the sensational trial for the 2002 Haidl gang rape. Those lawyers hired doctors, flew them in from far-away places, paid them more than $750 per hour, and had them claim in court that the only way an erect penis could enter a woman’s vagina and rectum was if she consciously agreed to penetration. In essence, they argued (and a wise jury rejected) that successful penetration without massive tears means no rape.

Again, emphasis mine.

Yes, the comments are horrifying.  And yes, they have “echos” of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.  Except there’s one small wrinkle:  Akin and Mourdock have echoes of Johnson, not the other way around.

Moxley’s story was not hard to find:  I was absolutely gobsmacked that no one would have covered the story back in 2008. So I went to Google News, typed in “judge derek johnson rape” and date restricted to 1/1/2008 to 1/1/2009.

It took me 15, maybe 20 seconds.  (To add insult to injury, the story that Adam cites, from the LAist, correctly credited Moxley.)

So Adam — please tell me, when you say “It’s only coming out now” did you really mean that  journalists are only paying attention to these kinds of stories now that national attention has been focused on to stories about the insensitivities towards rape?  Or did you mean that the story was only coming out in NY Magazine now, as an apology for missing the story four years ago?  Update: Moxley needs no such apology or disclaimer, as his coverage of the Commissions decision references his own previous story.

Stories may “pop” for a variety of reasons — and if the story was missed in 2008, be upfront about it.  It should have gotten more media attention, but it didn’t.  But don’t play the CYA game.  The comments have been out for four years.  (If anything, the “story” might be why the Commission only learned of the comments in May 2012 (see page 5)).

We live in a new online journalism culture, where everyone is copy-pasting as furiously as they can to get the story out.  I believe bloggers are journalists — and I think as journalists, bloggers have an obligation to try and get their facts right.  Is a quick Google News search too much to ask?

 

 

 

 

1 Response » to “Irresponsible Journalism in the Age of the Internet”

  1. Gustavo Arellano says:

    Gracias for your defense of our paper. Just as background: The OC Weekly is an alt-weekly in Orange County, CA, and the sister paper of the Village Voice. The reporter who broke the news back in 2008, R. Scott Moxley, is an investigative reporting legend—he has sent our former sheriff to federal prison, gotten many politicians out of office, gotten innocent people out of jail, and generally makes life miserable for the comfortable, like the rest of us do. We’re used to people not paying attention to us, ESPECIALLY in the mainstream media, because the MSM considers OC a backwater with no possible intellect, while the locals despise us because we ARE a backwater. Whatever: we continue being us, and letting everyone else play catchup.

    –Gustavo Arellano, Editor, OC Weekly