New York Times reporter and bureau chief, James C. McKinley, has co-written with Erica Goode a follow-up article on the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas.
McKinley’s initial coverage of the crime was so inexcusably slanted toward sympathy for the rapists and blame for the victim—both in its selection of quotations and editorial angle—that it unleashed a public outcry here on the Rumpus and across the Internet, including a petition signed by nearly 50,000 people on Change.org demanding an apology by the Times.
The Times first issued a response through their public relations department that was about as corporate and dismissive as it could possibly be. The following day, the Times’ Public Editor, Arthur Brisbane, posted a column acknowledging the article’s flaws. Of the 369 comments on Brisbane’s post, almost all expressed continued frustration that his acknowledgment was not enough, that the New York Times needed to do more, and fast.
But dissemination of McKinley’s original column had already done measurable damage, empowering and amplifying a message of victim-blaming by lawmakers like Florida representative Kathleen Passidomo, who cited McKinley’s article to support a new law calling for a student dress code to make children “safer” because, as she said, the 11-year-old girl raped by 18 men and boys in Texas had been “dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute.”
The latest article on this story is a dramatic improvement over the first. It tells a far more comprehensive—and therefore all the more harrowing—story of this crime, and paints the picture of an extraordinarily vulnerable child whose family was breaking under the pressures of illness and poverty. And it establishes the simple fact that “in Texas, a child under 17 cannot give legal consent and, as in most states, ignorance of a child’s age is not a legal defense.” In other words: clothing, age, behavior—none of those things have the slightest significance to what was done to this child.