it comes to reporting incidents involving athletes, entertainers, celebrities elected
officials and prominent public figures, all too often there is a double
standard of what the media considers news.
If a crisis is involved, expect a media circus.
it happens, those closest to and responsible for the image of a public figure
are either not prepared or are in denial that there ever will be a crisis. An arrest for a DUI, for example, will be a
media headline, but the incident would go unreported it if involved a typical
next-door neighbor, and most certainly if a reporter, or publisher of the
newspaper or magazine is involved.
year, a former athlete and prominent broadcaster was arrested for a DUI. Over the course of several months, a sportswriter
wrote several articles that each amounted to one-quarter to one-third of a page
in the local newspaper. When asked why
so much exposure was given to this story, the writer said it was "news." However, he did not respond when asked if it
would be considered "news" if his editor or the owners of his newspaper were
arrested for a similar incident. This is
a double standard and what I would consider to be unethical, biased,
prejudiced, and discriminatory. The DUI
incident was not mentioned on local radio or television.
former superstar and broadcaster was put on leave of absence from his job when he
was cited for a DUI. Months later he was
found not guilty. The damage to his
reputation was done when the media immediately found him guilty, not innocent
until a court decision.
is considered news about one person may not be news for another. If a second string lineman or the backup
quarterback for a college is arrested for even a misdemeanor incident, it will
be put on the national wire and generally used in a roundup story on the sports
pages, even though newspapers have severely cutback on news that it is
publishing. More than likely the
incident will never be reported on radio or television.
media should follow the lead of The Toledo (Ohio) Blade. For more than 50 years, the newspaper reports
all DUI arrests, including its own reporters and editors, prominent civic
leaders, philanthropists, coaches, athletes, entertainers, and even the plumber
next door. "It continues to be our
policy that we treat everyone equal and fairly when reporting arrests for
DUIs," says Ron Royhab, the Blade's executive editor. "We are selective on who gets a story for
drunk driving. We make news judgment
decisions every day on all kinds of stories, including DUIs."
way some newspapers headline stories about athletes, coaches, and celebrities, you
have to question whether or not there was malicious intent to destroy the
individual's reputation. The writers of
the articles and the editors who provide the space would more than likely be in
jail if it happened in England, Canada, Australia, the British Caribbean or any
also has to question why, when media report a charge of rape or assault, the name
of the accuser is withheld but the name of the accused is made public. The accused is treated contrary to due
process and is automatically considered guilty until proved innocent. The reputation of the accused is immediately tarnished,
if not destroyed. Recently a
professional athlete was accused of rape.
Immediately after the news broke, his teammates and team management
released statements supporting him and his character. His agent said the allegations were false and
because the player wanted to end a dating relationship with the accuser. Within a week, the local prosecutor dropped
all charges because of insufficient evidence of the rape.
May 2001, Congressman Gary Condit (D-California) was under suspicion for the
disappearance and murder of Chandra Levy, a former intern in his office. He was alleged to have had an extra-marital
affair with the victim. The media became
the prosecutor, judge and jury in indicting and convicting Condit of
murder. He lost his Congressional seat,
which he had held for 12 years, in a primary election, and his life was destroyed.
moved with his wife and children to Arizona.
In February 2009, the police charged Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadoran
immigrant with Levy's murder. He had
been questioned in 2002 by investigators for attacking two women joggers in
Washington, D.C.'s Rock Creek Park and later found guilty and sentenced to 10
years in prison.
former Congressman, who was very popular with his constituents in California's
northern San Joaquin Valley, received settlements from several media outlets he
sued for defamation and libel, as well as for a slander suit brought against
Vanity Fair writer Dominick Dunne.
Regardless of what Condit received from litigation, no amount of money
could ever restore his image.
media had a field day when the U.S. Department of Justice went after Sen. Ted
Stevens (R-Alaska) for violations of the Ethics in Government Act. On July 29, 2008, he was indicted by a
federal grant jury on seven counts of failing to report gifts. While always maintaining his innocence and
refusing to accept any plea deals, a jury found him guilty on October 27, a
week before the election. A majority of
the voters believed what they saw and heard and voted Stevens out of office
after 40 years. He was the longest
serving Republican Senator in history.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, a Democrat, and the Obama Administration,
found serious prosecutorial misconduct by the Bush Administration Justice
Department during the trial and dropped all charges. This led to the court overturning his
conviction and supporting his innocence.
It was too late to return the 86-year-old Stevens to his place in Congress
and the media attention given his innocence was minute compared to the accusations
last summer. Now the Bush Administration
Justice Department lawyers responsible may be prosecuted for criminal
Have A Plan In
Place and Fight Back
falsely accused fight back. Anyone
responsible for the image of a celebrity should have a plan in place and be
ready to counterattack. Getting
supporting and positive statements of character about the individual are very
important, as was done with the professional athlete accused of rape. These statements should be released to the
media immediately after any accusations are made. In 2006 a Black woman falsely accused three
members of Duke University's lacrosse team of raping her at a party.
was immediate local outrage in Durham.
The incident went national when Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton
began speaking out and then met with local community leaders. The president of Duke, Richard Brodhead,
forced the lacrosse coach to resign and cancelled the remainder of the team's season. A year later, North Carolina's Attorney
General, Roy Cooper, dropped all charges and declared the three players
innocent and victims of a tragic rush to accuse. Mike Nifong, the local district attorney, won
re-election based on his actions against the players. In June 2007, he was disbarred for
"dishonesty, fraud, decent and misrepresentation" and found guilty of criminal
contempt. Eventually Brodhead apologized
for the way he handled the incident.
February 2008, all 38 members of the 2006 Duke lacrosse team filed suit in
against Brodhead and more than a dozen Duke officials, as well as the city of
Durham, its city manager and various police officers. During a media event at the National Press
Club in Washington, D.C. the players reaffirmed their innocence and cited how
they were "reviled almost daily in the local and national press."
a newspaper overkills with a DUI story, get the numbers of how many DUIs
arrests there are in the city, county, and state and then ask for a meeting
with the writer and his or her editor, or even the editorial board, and present
a case for fairness and equality. Cite
what The Toledo Blade is doing. Use
blogs and websites, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, to present the case where
there is a double standard of reporting.
the best way to avoid having to ask for a correction, a retraction, or being
fair, is not having a story in the media to deal with. When a reporter calls to do a story, find out
everything you can about the person and especially the types of stories written
and whether there has been any bias.
I believe the writer would be an adversary and stretch or bend the truth to the
extremes of the First Amendment and that anything published would be negative,
damaging, or potentially defamatory, I would call John J. Walsh, senior counsel
of Carter Ledyard and Milburn, New York.
Often, someone of Walsh's prominence and success in libel cases needs
only to call or meet with the publisher or the media organization's legal
representative and the story is dead. In
other words, no news is good news!
Rene A. Henry is an
author and columnist and lives in Seattle, Washington. His latest book, "Communicating In A Crisis,"
has a specific chapter on how to fight back and win. Many of his widely published commentaries are
posted on his website, www.renehenry.com.