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.