Earlier this week, the New York Times published a piece about a harrowing gang-rape that occurred in Cleveland, Texas, in which "18 young men and teenage boys" were charged with "participating in the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl." The paper drew a metric ton of criticism for presenting the matter in a way that allowed sympathy for the alleged rapists to overwhelm the piece. A good representative example of the heat the Times took can be found in Margaret Hartmann's piece on the matter in Jezebel.
The New York Times published a story today about how the case has torn apart the town, and the paper chooses to focus on the plight of the accused men. The author says the town is wondering "how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?" as if they were tricked into gang raping a child. Then there's this quote:
"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."
But maybe the New York Times' coverage was shaped largely by the fact that Cleveland, Texas is the most awful town in America. The AP revisits the town in a report today:
A meeting Thursday night that was billed as a way to discuss concerns some have about the investigation into a series of alleged sexual assaults on an 11-year-old girl turned into a forum that many used to blame the girl police contend is the victim of heinous attacks.
Many who attended the meeting said they supported the group of men and boys who have been charged in the case. Supporters didn't claim that the men and boys did not have sex with the young girl; instead they blamed the girl for the way she dressed or claimed she must have lied about her age -- accusations that have drawn strong responses from those who note an 11-year-old cannot consent to sex and that it doesn't matter how she was dressed.
The meeting was "led by Quanell X, an activist prominent in Houston's black community." X averred that it was not his intention to "jump on an 11-year-old girl." Rather, it was to "question why she didn't report the attack to authorities herself" (we remind you, this was an eleven year old girl) and take donations for a defense fund for the people who had, already, done most of the "jumping" on the "eleven-year-old girl," followed by a gang-rape.
In the AP's followup, a man named Oscar Carter briefly appears to say, "She's 11 years old. It shouldn't have happened. That's a child," and, "Somebody should have said what we are doing is wrong."
But Carter was the exception -- the headline of the AP's piece, "Some in Texas town blaming young girl," really puts the word "some" under considerable logical strain. Most of those assembled enjoyed themselves a nice round of victim blaming. I especially love Angie Woods' response: "I'm not taking nobody's side, but if she hadn't put herself in that predicament, this would have never happened." Apparently, there is a definition of "taking a side" that is specifically operable to Cleveland, Texas.
When the Times piece originally ran, Mother Jones' reporter and force-for-good Mac McClelland imagined herself in the shoes of an editor, emailing the piece's author. "Please advise if literally no other kinds of quotes are available because every single person who lives in Cleveland, Texas, is a monster," she wrote. I'm starting to have the nagging suspicion that, with the exception of the aforementioned Carter and the young rape survivor herself, this is actually the case.
Some in Texas town blaming young girl in assault [AP]