JOURNALISM!

Following media, political, and cultural issues not only rapidly produces outrage fatigue – see 2000 through 2008, when merely treading water and keeping up with the barrage of scandals, graft, cronyism, corruption, maladministration, and disregard for the Constitution was nearly a full time job – but it also raises our outrage threshold over time. As the average teenage fan of violent videogames, Marilyn Manson, and horror movies can testify, something is shocking the first time it happens, somewhat novel once or twice more, and totally mundane thereafter. Making a career out of being "outrageous" means constantly having to up the ante to find new ways to shock people who have already seen, internalized, and normalized everything thrown at them so far.

It is not the intent of the media to shock us in most instances, and we may safely assume that they are not going out of their way to shock us with their raw incompetence. Nonetheless, over the past 30 years we have become numb to their complete inability to understand the basic tenets of journalism. It no longer shocks us to see basic spelling/grammar errors in major media outlets. Or press releases / product advertisements published unaltered as news items. Or water-carrying for corporate interests. Or victim-blaming crime stories. Or obsequious deference to elected officials. Or willful ignorance of social problems that should be major news stories. The media fails to do its job so regularly that nothing shocks us anymore. You can look at the final product and say "My god, this is ridiculous" but you cannot honestly say that it shocks you. It's just expected.

Somehow, despite the numbing repetition of embarrassing journalistic failure over the years, something comes along and shocks me every few months.

Tuesday's New York Times (and we could say "OMG! Even the NYT?" if not for, you know, Judith Miller and Jayson Blair and all that) ran this story entitled "Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town". A brief summary of the underlying story:

(An explicit cellphone video) led the police to an abandoned trailer, more evidence and, eventually, to a roundup over the last month of 18 young men and teenage boys on charges of participating in the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in the abandoned trailer home, the authorities said.

Five suspects are students at Cleveland High School, including two members of the basketball team. Another is the 21-year-old son of a school board member. A few of the others have criminal records, from selling drugs to robbery and, in one case, manslaughter. The suspects range in age from middle schoolers to a 27-year-old.

Wow. The phrase "vicious assault" in the headline is actually an understatement. I should be glad to see a major newspaper covering this kind of story, right?

The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core and left many residents in the working-class neighborhood where the attack took place with unanswered questions. Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act? “It’s just destroyed our community,” said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.

Wait…what?

(T)he assault started after a 19-year-old boy invited the victim to ride around in his car. He took her to a house on Travis Street where one of the other men charged, also 19, lived. There the girl was ordered to disrobe and was sexually assaulted by several boys in the bedroom and bathroom. She was told she would be beaten if she did not comply, the affidavit said…they then went to the abandoned mobile home, where the assaults continued. Some of those present recorded the sexual acts on their telephones.

OK, I get that part, where the victim was gang raped by a dozen-plus males, but…

Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said. "Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?" said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record. "How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?"

Yeah, see, this is the part that isn't registering.

Now many of you are probably seeing this as run-of-the-mill Asking For It / Dressed Like a Whore / She Totally Wanted It argument. We have seen this enough times in newspapers and on TV that it should no longer surprise us. At this point I need to remind you, however, that this story is about an 11 year old girl who was gang raped on video by as many as 12 to 18 males.

As I reached the part of the story that describes how the 11 year old girl dressed (whorishly, of course) my mind raced to one of my favorite stand-up bits: Bill Hicks' description of Mark Fuhrman and Stacy Koon testifying at the Rodney King trial. "And the courtroom gasped…'Jesus! What balls!'" I don't suppose it helps to make light of this sad state of journalistic affairs, but the sheer balls required to play the "wanted it / dressed like a whore" angle on an 11 year old girl getting gang raped is, even by American mainstream media standards, pretty shocking. That this kind of crime could happen and the news story, particularly the comments of the interviewees, would focus on the plight of the perpetrators of the crime – Those poor boys! – is surprising enough. That this is only the second most fucked-up thing about the way this story is reported crosses the line from routine bad journalism to legitimately shocking.

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56 Responses to “JOURNALISM!”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Jesus holy fuck.

  2. Nunya Says:

    Nothing in this world "draws" anyone into raping AN 11 YEAR OLD GIRL!

    Not only are the opinions of the townspeople callous, it should be the duty of a reporter to sift through the opinions and report the facts like, you know, AN 11 YEAR OLD GIRL WAS GANG RAPED!

    Jesus… all the news that fit to print indeed.

    And just when I thought that the shit in Wisconsin was the end of the world now I read this.

    I may need to take a side trip to Texas to excercise my pitchfork arm before making my way to Madison.

  3. pablo Says:

    "that guy carries his balls around in a wheelbarrow…'scuse me, 'scuse me, the man with big balls is comin' through!" God I loved that man

  4. Jude Says:

    There's really not much more to say about this. I mean, this shit had to be written, then pass through two editors, right? And everybody in the chop said "Yeah, play up the 11-year-old, who was gang-raped by a dozen-and-a-half guys up to age 27, like a whore. Golden. Go with it!"

    Also, if you're stupid enough to make a video of the gang-rape you're participating in, you deserve every punishment that can possibly be given to you.

  5. Alvin B. Says:

    I grew up just outside of this town (Cleveland). I have to say the mindset/mentality in Cleveland, TX is NOT something most readers of NYT or any major publication are familiar with. The community I grew up in was pretty normal, but all of our shopping trips required travelling into Cleveland, and my mother's business was near Travis St. where this happened, so I know the town well.

    It is a classic case of small town gone bad, IMHO. It was a lumber town originally, settled by workers and nobody else. It then devolved into a highly segregated town with the "wrong side of the tracks" completely uninvolved in what went on in the other part of town, and when the two clash, bad things happen. There is also, for historical reasons I won't go into here, a large population of mentally disabled in the town.

    I don't excuse what happened in the least, it is an atrocity of the first degree. I compare this to the events of 1964 when 38 people witnessed a murder and nobody did anything to stop or even report it (http://www2.selu.edu/Academics/Faculty/scraig/gansberg.html). Except here, it *IS* worse because everyone participated. What kind of mass psychology is there that prompts everyone to think "It's okay to do it because everyone else is doing it?".

    I think the first reason is a rotten community to the core. In the minds of these "young men", although many of them probably would not have acted upon their own, it wasn't something that they saw a big enough problem with to do something about it. Nobody wanted to stand out and say anything, because they are literally desensitized to this sort of thing.

    The South (and Texas) still has a LONG way to go to attain cultural enlightenment. Remember, Cleveland, TX is just 90 miles from Jasper, where we saw one of the more brutal racial killings in the late 90s, and just 75 miles from Vidor, TX, where segregation has been acknowledged to have failed completely after a series of high profile attempts to desegregate the city in the 90s.

    If you explore the south, you'll find a lot more rotten and worm-ridden cities full of rotten and worm-ridden people (regardless of race). There are many reasons for this, but the mainstream media doesn't cover it unless there is an atrocity like this one. And then, it gets forgotten about.

  6. Scott Says:

    @Alvin B. –

    I'm not really sure where to begin. Your response is one of the most contradictory, illogical things I have read in a long time.

    First, before anyone can say otherwise, I am completely disgusted by what happened in this town and the way the NYT portrayed the perpetrators. However, to say that because this happened in the South is evidence that the South is "worm-ridden" is preposterous. Jeffrey Dahmer was from Milwaukee – therefore all residents of Wisconsin are homosexual serial killers. Flawless logic.

    The vast majority of people in the South are polite and the vast majority of the towns in the South are nice places to live. Gang rapes are not a common occurrence. You have to admit that your own childhood in the South at least provided you a fine sense of moral superiority to judge everyone else with.

    Also, I'm not sure how a town settled by workers is going to result in a town that tolerates gang rape. There are quite a few people who live and work in factory towns (here's a nice long list for you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mill_town) that would find fault with your rigorous analysis.

    It's late and I don't feel like picking apart your post any more. I'll leave by saying that it's this kind of half-cocked, ignorant "analysis" that is fueling the Tea Party movement and it really has to stop.

    P.S. Enough bashing on the South. You're no better than the Baggers ripping on Muslims.

  7. Jeff C. Says:

    What happened to rugged individualism and radical self-responsibility? If conservatives contend that people are radically individual and their choices aren't constrained by pesky, irrelevant details like socio-economic status, and so on, then doesn't all blame rest solely with the assailants? Aren't people so ruggedly individual that people don't affect other people? The girl's manner of dress couldn't have possibly affected the boys because the boys are so ruggedly individual!

    …shit.

    I forgot that conservatives are also ignorant women-hating nutjobs. The world always aligns with their interests.

  8. Jeff C. Says:

    Unstated but hopefully it's obvious: it's clearly a conservative community with typical conservative values.

  9. mother earth Says:

    this story may be the one that makes me quit reading the papers and blogs. So, she deserved it because she dressed like a whore and where was her mother during all of this???? Makes my head want to explode. And may I add, if she dressed like a whore, it was because she shopped at the fucking mall for her clothes. Those cute tween fashions are channeling adult teen fashion just as hard and fast as they can.

    Jeez, I'm totally depressed two hours before I get to go to work.

  10. point Says:

    So if the reporter is reporting quotes from residents it is irresponsible? The Mrs. Harris quote is from a resident who would go on record and therefore is (perhaps imperfectly) a means of capturing local residential opinion. This is not an editorial.

  11. Shane Says:

    @Alvin B – There is actually a great write up in Super Freakonomics that shows that the famous Gansberg story about the 38 bystanders that did nothing is more fiction than fact. If anything, it is an illustration of a journalist ignoring facts in order to create a sensational story.

    @point – So no one in the girl's family or friends had a comment worth reporting?

  12. a Says:

    Where were those boy's mothers?

  13. point Says:

    @ Shane- The headline of the article clearly establishes that it is interested in portraying the community reaction to the event. That may or may not be a poor editorial choice. Perhaps, an article describing the family's grief would have been more appropriate. But including an attributable quote from a community member in a report about the community's response to the event is not objectionable.

  14. JBerardi Says:

    I don't want to live on this planet anymore.

  15. Brandon Says:

    I'm kind of with point on this. I think the reactions are a bit over the top, as I see nothing in the article justifying or legitimizing the perpetrators' actions. Regarding Shane's question to point about why the girl's family or friend's aren't quoted: who knows? The article clearly states that the girl and her mother's whereabouts are unknown. Perhaps the reporter had a hard time getting interviews with the girl's friends, perhaps people were reluctant to talk. Maybe the girl doesn't have extended family in the area.

    I don't know…I can understand criticizing the way the article was framed, and which angles of the story the reporter prioritized. But this article was written 4 months after the crime took place, so I don't see what's wrong with exploring how the crime has affected the broader community in the intervening months.

  16. Bookwormz Says:

    A society's progress can be measured by how well that society treats and promotes its women. Where is our country headed when there are people who want to prosecute women for naturally occuring miscarriages? When there are people who want to deny family planning assistance to women, but then deny those same women public assistance when they can't afford to keep the children they have? When there are people who want to redefine rape within the confines of evidence of physical violence only? When, as Mother Earth noted, society capitalizes on the sexualization of our youth?

  17. Brandon Says:

    "I forgot that conservatives are also ignorant women-hating nutjobs. The world always aligns with their interests."

    @ Jeff C. – Jesus Christ, that was quite a screed, hope you feel better. I seriously can't imagine a bigger impediment to those of us who are honestly trying to counter the propaganda spewed by Fox and company than crap like this. What on earth does this have to do with conservatives or liberals? It was a horrible fucking tragedy for this young girl. Considering that many of the defendants seem to be African-American males, I could see some racist douchebag writing some diatribe about how this reflects the values of the African-American community. And really, you're no better than them.

  18. point Says:

    It seems that the tremendous reaction to this piece would have been avoided had the reporter included an additional sentence that stated something like:
    "Many (Most/All?) of the community members spoken to expressed more concern for the boys than for the girl."
    The thing that we have lost in this uproar is that it is community's response that is most troubling NOT the reporters decision to quote residents.

  19. ladiesbane Says:

    Brandon, even if you think the standards of journalism do not include taking any position at all, even in the ugliest cases, consider that it was also a shitty job from a technical point of view. You seem to be aware of that, since you address that no one was quoted for the victim, but you shrug that off — while defending the choice to quote only the people who are protecting the rapists. Why the double standard?

    Do you truly not understand that quoting no one at all for the victim (not even law enforcement or hospital personnel), while quoting the BS "my boy would never do that" / "she was asking for it" / "that eleven year old looked legal and that means it's okay to rape her" reactions, is not an exploration of the how the crime affected the broader community? And that displaying indifference to the victim, unchallenged, effectively condones and minimizes the crime?

    Seriously, if you don't grasp how rape victims are habitually mistreated, in ways that, among other things, affect their legal proceedings, you should read up on it. Alice Vachss prosecuted sex crimes in New York City for over a decade and wrote a solid, fact-filled book about the process; you might start there.

  20. KED Says:

    From an article about this on MSNBC: "Maturity or not I'm pretty sure she knew what she was doing," Robin Smith, 24, a cashier in Cleveland, said as she shopped this week.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41993963/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/

  21. Jeff C. Says:

    @ Brandon: It was a small paragraph… “quite a screed”? And I don’t think it’s at all inaccurate or irrelevant to point out that victim-blaming is a ubiquitous, well-known conservative tactic; further, this particular community seems to employ that tactic. “They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said”. Perhaps you’re not familiar with these kinds of stories, but that’s code for “she was asking for it”, i.e. blaming the victim.

    I’m absolutely guilty of situating this story within a political context. It resonates perfectly with the recent onslaught of denigrating, anti-feminist legislation proposed by conservatives throughout the country – from criminalizing miscarriages, to tightening restrictions on abortion. All of those proposals not only treat women as mere incubators, but it also holds them responsible for acts out of their control – like rape. They blame the victim.

    No, a conservative politician with outrageous remarks isn’t front and center in this article, but to insist that the views of this community have nothing to do with an increasingly common (and conservative!) cultural message of victim-blaming strikes me as radically naïve. In that vein, I think my commentary was appropriate since it points out the incoherency of a certain aspect of conservative ideology: it’s not at all irrelevant to point out that conservatives are all about rugged individualism and personal responsibility only insofar as it justifies their ends – and no one else’s. The concern doesn’t at all seem to be for the girl in this article, as Ed pointed out; it’s all about the boys and how they’re just going to have to live with this for the rest of their lives. Poor dears, if only that whore didn’t ask for it…

  22. Jeff C. Says:

    http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/ny-times-example-of-rape-culture/

    Feminist Philosopher's link to a discussion that further elaborates why this article is poorly done.

  23. The Moar You Know Says:

    "It no longer shocks us to see basic spelling/grammar errors in major media outlets."

    Oh no. It still does shock me. But it doesn't surprise me.

    I'm glad you said something about this story. One might think the writer is related to one of the accused; the tone undeniably smacks of "the whore got what she deserved."

    An 11-year old girl. Jesus.

  24. The Moar You Know Says:

    Oh yes, and before I forget – if this had happened to an 11-year old WHITE girl, the story would be front and center on every news outlet in the United States, and the outrage would be melting your eyeballs right out of your skull.

    Instead, we get "she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s."

    One small step away from "bitch was asking for it!"

  25. Paul W. Luscher Says:

    Remember this took place in TEXAS…where retrograde thinking and Neanderthalism survive and thrive…

  26. displaced Capitalist Says:

    Speaking of misspelling and editorial mistakes, what's with the constant switching between "men" and "boys"?

    I'm guessing because "boys will be boys" and couldn't be responsible for what they're doing.

    But really NYT, can you pick one noun and stick with it? Be a MAN about it!

  27. jeneria Says:

    Remember, if certain legislation gets passed, there will no longer be "victims" in sexual crimes or domestic abuse, only "accusers." This is being pushed in Georgia, by a Republican, therefore the assumption that this community reflects conservative values isn't entirely baseless. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/04/georgia-lawmaker-redefine-rape-victims-accusers_n_818718.html

    The NYT journalist is falling in step with the mentality that the victim isn't a victim until she's proven in a court of law to be a victim. Until then she is merely an accuser. And the journalist gets to easily and cowardly hide behind "reporting" comments made by the community, thereby removing the journalist of any culpability.

    The whole thing is sick.

  28. Scott Says:

    "Remember this took place in TEXAS…where retrograde thinking and Neanderthalism survive and thrive…"

    I'm going to keep asking this until I get an answer from someone. Why is it acceptable for liberals (and I am one) to make offensive blanket generalizations about the South and southerners and get away with it, yet completely abhor that behavior when conservatives do it to Blacks, Jewish people, Muslims, women, intellectuals?

    If it's not ok for conservatives and teabaggers to do it, then it not ok for us to do it. Two of the hallmarks of political liberalism are tolerance and educated minds. When you do this, you're making yourself look like a hypocrite.

  29. Monkey Business Says:

    @Scott: There's a big difference between being intolerant of ignorance, racism, and bigotry, and being ignorant, racist, and bigoted.

    I don't think that anyone is making the case that everyone that wanders around the South is ignorant, racist, and bigoted. However, it is a safe assumption that you'd have an easier time finding it there than most liberal enclaves.

    Also, when the conservatives and teabaggers do it, they cloud it with family values crap. Personally, I'd rather they just come out and say it.

  30. Scott Says:

    @Monkey Business: The point I've been trying to make over the past week or so, is that these problems are not isolated to the South. Go to ANY rural backwater in this country and you're going to encounter to same ignorance, racism and bigotry you say is so prevalent in the South.

    Rural Indiana is as bad as rural Maine and they are both as bad as rural Georgia. And claiming that the ignorance, racism and bigotry is somehow qualitatively different in the South is bullshit. Those problems are bad wherever you go.

  31. bb in GA Says:

    You mean family values crap like "We know where you (Repub Wisc State) Senators live and we are going come there and shoot you in the head."

    just sayin'…

    //bb

  32. JohnR Says:

    I suppose if you're still shocked by the reporting (as opposed to the event itself), it only means that you haven't been paying attention. Step, by step we descend the ladder (and it's not Jacob's Ladder, I'll tell you that!)

  33. displaced Capitalist Says:

    Hey bb, every site I found that has quoted that email says they don't know who sent it.

    Kinda lousy journalism if you make up emails and then claim that someone (your political opponent in this case) made it.

  34. displaced Capitalist Says:

    Also, the President of the United State (the position, not the person) has been getting death threats like this for most of the 20th and 21st centuries. Just because a politician gets death threats doesn't mean their political opponents made them.

  35. Brandon Says:

    @Jeff C: Where to begin…I don't deny that the sorts of reasoning you cite are prevalent among the conservative movement. And you're right, if the people cited in this interview mentioning the girl's dress and absolving the rapists are conservatives, that would expose some pretty serious hypocrisy on their part. But there is no evidence in the article that this is the case. I just think that there's so much genuinely shitty stuff that the conservative movement is doing in this country (some of which you pointed out), that we should limit our criticism to the countless tangible things they've done. In this case, I see no evidence that conservative ideology was either behind the rape or the community's reaction. Not saying categorically that's the case, I just don't see proof of it from what I've read.

  36. Brandon Says:

    "You seem to be aware of that, since you address that no one was quoted for the victim, but you shrug that off — while defending the choice to quote only the people who are protecting the rapists. Why the double standard?"

    @ladiesbane: I didn't "shrug that off," I pointed out that there might be genuinely legitimate reasons why the reporter might not have been able to get quotes from the victim's acquaintances. I do see your point about the problematic nature of quoting only the one side, however. I think the reporter would have been more justified in doing so if he/she had used it to explore bigger issues, like what it says about society's treatment of rape victims, gender roles, etc. As it is, since the quotes were not placed in that context, I do see why people are criticizing it.

  37. Morbo Says:

    'One small step away from "bitch was asking for it!"'

    That is what the defense is going to contend: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/falkenberg/7465233.html

  38. Fifth Dentist Says:

    As a long-time journalist I can say that those could have been either the least outrageous quotes the reporter got from the townsfolk or the ONLY people he or she could get to talk about it. In a small, close-knit and Southern community where there are bigwigs' relatives involved it is surprising that anyone was willing to go on the record.
    And editors insist on getting "reaction" from the community, so if those were the only people willing to identify themselves and say anything at all about it most reporters are going to put it in.
    Having said that, however, it is either laziness or incompetence in the reporter not bothering — and the editor not insisting* — to talk with a rape counselor/victim/advocate and getting a statement to the effect that clothing/drunkenness/behavior are not invitations to or excuses for rape. Oh, and that a fucking 11-year-old girl is not likely to be "asking for it" regardless of her dress or appearance.
    But again, the mere inclusion of those insensitive comments is not an indictment of journalism, more an indictment of the stupidity in that town, if anything.
    If one wishes to discuss a so-called journalist's behavior in such an event one need only look to Bill "Tides come in, tides go out" O'Reilly, who as a "journalist" suggested that a woman's rape was because she was dressed slutty and walking alone late at night. Now that is indefensible behavior.

    * I've been both a reporter and editor, and as the latter I know that reporters can be notoriously lazy unless pushed to, you know, do their fucking jobs.

  39. whetstone Says:

    I think Fifth Dentist has it about right. I read some of the Houston Chronicle's coverage, and a lot of the quotes were very similar (not to mention the outrageous statements by the defense attorney).

    Which suggests (insofar as the quotes journalists are able to obtain suggest anything) that there are a number of people in Cleveland with grossly atavistic notions of consent.

    Which is why I don't have a problem with that being quoted. I mean, if the obvious question is "why would the men and boys do this?"–from what I recall about the story, both minors and adults are involved–and there are a lot of people in Cleveland who think she was "asking for it," it suggests* reasons why young men there might rape an 11-year-old.

    *It's journalism, not police work or an academic study; what journalists do is talk to people, form impressions, and write them. A longer, more intensive report might do more than suggest, but that's not the kind of thing you get in the immediate wake of an incident.

  40. acer Says:

    Hicks died in '93, when OJ was still best known for his endorsement deals. That bit was about the Rodney King beating.

    The NYT lost all cred with me forever when they carried water for W and Operation Enduring Chaos. "Liberal media" my fucking ass.

  41. Facehammer Says:

    Drop the bomb, Lord. Drop the fucking bomb.

  42. ladiesbane Says:

    @Brandon: I get your point, but given the particulars of the story itself, the fact that they didn't do a better job is not just a trifling error. If more sources couldn't be found, the author should have discussed that — or even written about the problem of the lack of support for the victim among locals.

    Though I do think that if this poor little girl had been white, the major online news sources would have exploding headlines and flaming all-caps rage, I also see people like Lisa Ling, who recently had a piece on OWN about how sex offenders are unjustly marginalized by society — after all, they are Americans "just like you and me." No joke. What an idiot.

    There is a difference between impartiality and apathy. I don't know if it's always been socially acceptable to pity the attackers, or be negative to the victims, but rampant piss-poor journalism is making it worse. Weak minded people, and there are a lot of them, imitate what they see in the media rather than judge it by any personal standard. They're not seeing fairness (they're not even seeing good English) and people are still cheering for rapists if they play for the home team.

  43. SarahMC Says:

    What Fifth Dentist said. It's not hard to believe the reporter could not find anyone from the town to make a statement in support of the victim. In that case, he should have gotten a quote from a victims advocate or rape crisis counselor, to dispel the myths propagated by the residents he did interview.

    Many people believe the kinds of rape myths that appeared in the article. Reporting on them as though they are just innocuous opinions is irresponsible. People are very, very stupid and prone to woman-hating and victim-blaming. Calling on someone to say, "Actually, an 11 year old child cannot consent to sex with an adult man," or "A child's clothing has no bearing on a person's choice to rape her," etc. is vital.

    Also, "19-year-old BOY?"

  44. displaced Capitalist Says:

    he should have gotten a quote from a victims advocate or rape crisis counselor,

    Do these people even exist in a rural town?

  45. JM Says:

    The left is overreacting to this. NYT does not condone the act or (assumedly) make any false statements. Moreover, the nature of gang rape is such that anyone reading about any instance of it will instantly experience a strong, judgmental reaction—it's not as if NYT's failure to explicitly and vigorously condemn the perps is shaping anyone's thinking about it in a way that would lead to greater acceptance of these acts.

    Furthermore, us readers do not know all the details of this case. We're all familiar with those episodes of Springer and Maury where they bring about a dozen 9-14 year old girls who strut around in thongs saying "i do what i want, drugs, sex whatever,"….there is a valid distinction between gang rape happening to a girl who seeks out or otherwise associates herself with this behavior, and gang rape happening to a completely innocent 11 year old who gets kidnapped and 100% forcibly coerced into the situation. Although 11 year olds do not have the mental capacity to consent to this behavior, it seems plausible that the 11 year old was consenting in the beginning, until things got out of hand. That doesn't mean we should blame her nor excuse the boys. But it makes the event as a whole, less tragic. Still tragic, but less so. If this girl is anything like the girls on the springer shows, perhaps markedly less so. Some of those girls *literally* do ask for exactly these kinds of experiences (well, maybe not a full on gang). When you say "…but this was an 11 YEAR OLD GIRL WHO WAS GANGRAPED," it would suggest that all such incidents are completely identical, but I would disagree.

    Anyway, before you judge me youtube some of those springer episodes. They are extremely mindblowing. Then picture such a girl slightly overdeveloped for her age, in a podunk town, where the pickens are slim and the residents in general are so much stupider than the average reader of this blog, that they literally do not perceive or experience reality in the same way we do. How should we react? Horrified, to be sure. But should we really consider the act equally horrific to when a straight A goody two shoes is kidnapped and violently subjugated? The details included by NYT could be relevant.

  46. SarahMC Says:

    The person doesn't have to actually reside in the town. Calling up RAINN would suffice.

  47. AK Says:

    @JM:
    "here is a valid distinction between gang rape happening to a girl who seeks out or otherwise associates herself with this behavior, and gang rape happening to a completely innocent 11 year old who gets kidnapped and 100% forcibly coerced into the situation."

    You've just made the argument that there is a kind of 11-year old girl who is more deserving of gang rape.

    Kill yourself.

  48. Jeff C. Says:

    @ JM:

    “Moreover, the nature of gang rape is such that anyone reading about any instance of it will instantly experience a strong, judgmental reaction—it's not as if NYT's failure to explicitly and vigorously condemn the perps is shaping anyone's thinking about it in a way that would lead to greater acceptance of these acts.”

    Did you not read Ed’s post at all? The claim is precisely that the “failure to explicitly and vigorously condemn the perps IS shaping” cultural attitudes. As Ed notes, it “raises our outrage threshold over time”. The danger, then, is that victim-blaming could (it already is, to some degree) become so pervasive that it dulls our moral sensibilities, and what would have otherwise been a justified outrage instead becomes just another bitch getting what she asked for.

    But I mean, really? How the hell did the girl “associate herself with this behavior”? By definition, rape isn’t something you ask for or associate with; you’re really trying to claim that she associated herself with a violent, traumatizing act against her will? She asked for something she can’t, by definition, ask for? Here’s a tip: “asking for it” is called sex, saying no is called rape. There’s no ambiguity here – it was against her will. Regardless, an 11 year old child cannot, as you rightfully note, legally consent to sex anyway – so it’s rape through and through, period.

    But how the hell is it “less tragic” if someone (let’s assume an adult female) asks for sex first, but soon decides she doesn't want to go further? It’s still rape, and continuing the sexual act after she says NO doesn’t make the situation any less traumatizing for the victim: it’s still against her will! How the hell do you justify that in your muddled little mind? It doesn't matter if the victim has had sex a thousand times before: NO is NO.

    Am I overacting here? Am I getting too worked up over your confused, malicious attempt to justify violence and harm against another human being? I fucking hope so. A foul position like yours deserves all sorts of “overreaction”.

    Here’s a good litmus test for the future: If your post is some variation of, “That’s terrible, but…”, where some depraved nonsense about the girl asking for it ensues, you’re a goddamn moron with the moral sensitivity of Ebola.

  49. Alvin B. Says:

    @Scott

    Comparing what I have to say with the Tea Party? Really? I have nothing to do with them. And, I grew up and lived my life near that area, but not in it on a daily basis. As you say, I did manage to have a relatively moral upbringing – OUTSIDE of Cleveland, by about 12 miles actually. I have the authority to have an opinion on the fact that Cleveland is as rotten a town as they come. It is. And the south is full of towns like it. It is. That doesn't mean every person in such a town is that way, but the overall character stands out. And despite what you may think, this type of town *is* more common in the South than in other parts of the country. I've lived in other parts of the U.S., and the sheer ignorance that blankets the south overwhelms me any time I have been away.

  50. JohnR Says:

    @JM: Boy, am I glad you started out with the classic "The left is.." You have managed to reinforce for me my stereotype of the modern right-wing as stupid, vicious cretins. Unless, of course, you're a thoroughly soul-less troll. But then "stupid, vicious cretin" would still apply, I suppose. And here I thought that the single greatest sin of "The Left" was moral relativism, too. Just another example of "Bad for thee but not for me" thinking so common among the supposed "Moral Party"

  51. Goytotheworld Says:

    @Alvin B

    Cleveland is also near Liberty, a town that scared the crap out of even the white folks who lived in the area. Eastern Texas still has a lot of towns that either were, or still have a rep as Sundown Towns. Vidor is the main one that is infamous outside of Texas.

    Vidor is what people called a Sundown Town. As long as the sun hadn't set yet, a black man wouldn't have much to fear there except for some rude stares and the cold shoulder. But if the sun had set, it would be in his best interest to simply take the long way around and go through Orange or even just go past the Louisiana border and hook around.

    Hell, I still remember back in the 90s, there was attempt to force Vidor to deal with integration by having a few black families move into some public housing units. My dad was convinced they were going to be killed within a month. Even with cops watching out for them, they got death threats and then the KKK came around to scare the hell out of them. After nearly two months, they fled the town rather than deal with the crap that was happening. In 1990 census, there were no black residents at all.
    In the 2010 census, there was about 8.

    In the past ten years, Vidor had improved in racial matters, but unfortunately its past still leaves it with the mental image of KKK central. Most of this can be attributed to newer generations who have witnessed integration and realized how full of crap their grandparents and possibly their parents were about "those" people.

    Unfortunately, some folks still hold on to old ways that just blow me the hell away.

    http://articles.cnn.com/2006-12-08/us/oppenheim.sundown.town_1_vidor-black-families-klan-rally?_s=PM:US

    Yay for the area I called home for 3/4 of my life, good to know some of are just now catching up with the 1960s…

    —————

    On the article:

    Wow, this is just plain shitty journalism. How on earth did this guy even get a degree with that kind of unobjective and plain disgusting manner of reporting? I thought this kind of crap thinking was supposed to die with the seventies?

    Also, not much of a surprise about this happening in Cleveland and how folks are throwing victim blame around. This area of Texas still has some ghosts from the past that it just can't seem to shake off.

    @JK

    What the fuck is wrong with you? No seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you and the way you think? What the fuck happened to you that you think it's perfectly fine to say that there is an eleven year old who is asking to be raped by not just one man, not just several, but nearly two dozen? And what the fuck is the deal with "The left wing is overreacting"? You can't pull your head out of your ass and be a human being about what happened? Jesus christ, fuck the goddamn politics and be a human for a minute. Not only that, what is this bullshit where you act as if the men charged with this crime are some form of lower species of human, like they were cro-magnons? They're from a hick town, not another planet, they have the same thought processes and general behavior as the rest of us. What the hell do you think they are, characters from an Edward Lee book? Jesus Christ, I can't fucking believe how hard you are trying to justify them gang raping a kid.

    Fucking Springer and Maury is your baseline for how eleven year olds dress and look? The same shows that feature midget klaners, guys who are proud to be fucking horses, and then the old crotchety dude who once was a decent reporter, but now relies on having gigantic fat kids and people with severe birth defects to parade around like a latter day side show freak house? This is your baseline? Holy crap, you're not just callous and cruel, you're a damned idiot!

    Jeff C isn't even remotely showing you the level of vile you deserve.

  52. eau Says:

    @JM – Just wanted to add my voice to the chorus.

    Asking for it?

    Fuck that, and fuck you.

  53. Samantha B. Says:

    Where is the race of either the victim or the perpetrators mentioned? And how could that possibly have any relevance to the crime?

  54. Nicole Says:

    oh my god this story makes me want to puke everywhere. but it also makes me realize how important it is to keep fighting. Thanks for posting, Ed.

    @JM – Some others have already responded quite eloquently, but I feel the need to add just a bit.

    It has nothing to do with the left or the right. You already note that the girl was too young to consent. Similarly: why do juvenile court and juvenile punishments exist? minors do not have the mental faculties to make good, solid decisions 100% of the time. Kids emulate adults. It's what they do. That doesn't mean that this little girl – or any woman of any age – deserved, or ever deserves, to be harmed. Does wearing certain clothing make a person less human?

    And apparently adults don't make good decisions either — but they have the ability to. You seem to think it's ok to claim that these men just couldn't control themselves because some kid was wearing lipstick. So these neanderthals just couldn't help themselves? Seeing a child in grown up clothes causes them to lose all sense of what it means to act like a respectful human being and abuse her – not just once, but over and over again?

    Oh, you think it's because those people are "stupider than the readers of this blog." No, they're not. What's stupid is making excuses for people who have more or less the same mental capacity as any other people by making the argument that based on class or location or education — or the sight of a dolled-up 11-year-old — abusive behavior is justifiable or understandable. Newsflash: poor, undereducated communities are not zoos. It's disturbing that you seem to think some people ought to be viewed as animals rather than creatures capable of reason.

  55. Rene Says:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1367377/Six-footballers-jailed-gang-rape-12-year-old-girls-midnight-park-orgy.html

    This is a link to a story in the UK that reminded me of this post.

    The interesting detail here is the evidence that the girls, or at least one of the girls, solicited the attention. I also read somewhere in there that they had misrepresented their ages at some point. The defense for the boys and the tone of the article still leans towards the style of the Texas story, but when I read the UK article all I could think of were the girls I knew as a kid.

    I was a pretty troubled pre-teen and teen; I started smoking, drinking, and experimenting with drugs just as 5th grade was ending. My likewise delinquent friends were either my age or a few years older and they were all sexually active (thank goodness I was the geeky fat girl and just did the drugs, not the deed). I remember we snuck out in the middle of the night and walked around our low-income bumfuck town for hours until a few hicks twenty-somethings in a pick-up truck (of course) pulled over beside us. They had beer, we wanted a ride, they took us into the middle of the woods, showed off their guns. I remember leaning against the side of the truck as I told my friend how stupid this was while she was bent over the passenger side seat, giving one of the dude's the blow job she had casually offered. That was the first time I heard the term "whiskey dick". They took us home some time later, theoretically safe and sound (it should be obvious at this point that all of our parents were more than a little negligent with their responsibilities).

    Had we been caught, those guys would have been and totally should have been arrested. But in my retrospect opinion, I don't think my friend should have been considered a pitiful victim. Her 12-year-old sister would soon after become the go-to girl when we wanted hard to acquire items, like money, drugs, and cigarettes. If she couldn't break in and steal it, she would exchange sexual favors for it.

    I'm not at all trying to defend the article on the Texas incident; even if an underage girl or boy solicits sex, it does not make innocent those who take advantage of immaturity, immorality, or ignorance. I think I'm just trying to say that I can understand how some people who have either been a certain kind of girl or just knew these certain kinds of girls would assume that any young girl could have this happen to her and feel okay saying she asked for it.

  56. displaced Capitalist Says:

    Ed, this might interest you: Wendy Murphy, a women's rights pundit and law professor (who gained notoriety after the Duke Lacrosse debacle) wrote a letter Thursday to the NYT taking them to task for all the problems with that article. Many experts in medicine, law, linguistics, sexual violence, child abuse and public policy from around the world also added their signature to it.

    It's worth a read if you have a moment.