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Janesville Gazette’s Reprehensible Story About an Alleged Sexual Assault

At the nearby Janesville Gazette, there’s a story about an alleged sexual assault that’s simply reprehensible reporting: Excessive drinking was prelude to sex assault, court document alleges. (The reporter, Frank Schultz; editor, Sid Schwartz.)

Here’s how Schultz’s story begins – a single-sentence first paragraph:

An 18-year-old Janesville man is accused of second-degree sexual assault after a woman said she was assaulted after a night of excessive drinking.

From the headline and first paragraph, and onward for 4 more short paragraphs, this story shifts the emphasis to alcohol’s role in this sexual assault (Paragraph 2: “after drinking to the point of vomiting”; Paragraph 3: defendant “offered to let her stay at his place so she wouldn’t drive in her condition”; Paragraph 4: “she passed out on the bed”; Paragraph 5: the victim “woke up to Dyer assaulting her, but she could not speak, see or move because she was so drunk”).

No and no again: the story mightily and falsely shifts the focus to over-drinking rather than violence inflicted without consent. Whether this victim drank or didn’t, dressed one way or another, wore makeup of one kind or another, etc., it does not matter: whether she gave consent is all that matters, and all that should and must matter in a morally well-ordered society.

The reporter goes on to write that according to the criminal complaint the alleged assailant “eventually admitted the assault, saying it dawned on him while he was doing it that it was wrong.”

The reporter, Frank Schultz, elsewhere fancies himself an amateur etymologist of sorts – he touts skill with language by describing himself as a ‘Word Badger.’ It’s notable that his story has not a single direct quotation of its own – I’m quoting this story, but it has no quotations marks – every word this reporter writes is attributed directly only to the reporter. Schultz, himself, chose each and every word.

This story did not have to be written this way – it was written this way. This story did not have to be edited this way (if it should have been edited at all) – it was edited this way.

An emphasis on the victim’s intoxication and not on the alleged assailant’s lack of consent runs through this shabby effort. It’s a veteran reporter and a veteran editor who are culpable here: neither reporter Frank Schultz nor editor Sid Schwartz is young.

Their word choice is, it turns out, a prelude of sorts for mine: the story is reprehensible, as it is deserving of rebuke.

The Gazette has had problems of commentary (Does the Janesville Gazette Have a Dictionary?), simple reporting (The Janesville Gazette’s Sketchy Reporting on Major Topics), and of economic analysis (in What the New Dealers Got Right – What Whitewater’s Local Notables Got Wrong.)

The failure of this crime story, however, is far worse: it reflects a failure of understanding and perspective.

4 comments for “Janesville Gazette’s Reprehensible Story About an Alleged Sexual Assault

  1. J
    11/12/2019 at 11:47 AM

    Powerful. I read the full thing (it’s not that long). It is the right description to call it reprehensible. After all the pain people have experienced from assault (in this area!!!) there are still a huge amount of excuses offered. Talking so much about alcohol is one of them. The criminal issue is definitely consent as you bluntly state.

  2. Cathy
    11/12/2019 at 12:13 PM

    Thank you for being focused. It’s a sanity check to know that other people can tell right from wrong. Even when you know yourself it helps to read it from someone else.

  3. MB
    11/13/2019 at 9:57 AM

    You are very hard-hitting but you’re right. The story is brief but shows huge bias. It screams out the lie that alcohol made him (allegedly) do it. There’s a lot of victim-blaming here. The only thing missing is a line where this reporter says the woman had it coming. Women hear this constantly.
    There’s probably a lot of truth in your charge that this story wasn’t reviewed. The bigger problem is that the reporter/editor can’t see their own biases and probably think they’re describing truths.
    Appreciate you dissecting this – they’re pushing the worst stereotypes.

    • JOHN ADAMS
      11/13/2019 at 11:46 AM

      Thanks for these comments. There will be no yielding. Over these years, there has been in this small city an effort to dismiss individual injuries for the sake of some supposed greater goal (institutional reputation, institutional goals, officials’ goals, etc.). There is no greater goal: an institution and its officials are judged by their treatment of each individually.

      The Gazette story is a different – but equally bad – kind of challenge to fair & just treatment: here implicitly it’s everyone’s fault, and significantly a victim’s fault (so by that line it’s no one’s fault). Masquerading as a defense of personal responsibility, the story’s implication absolves the alleged assailant of his responsibility.

      You call this victim-blaming, and that’s true: the Gazette’s putrid effort reeks of it.