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Here is an example of what we believe to be media misrepresentation. Although Mr. Messing’s reporting is ostensibly objective insofar as it is grounded in quoted information, he leaves his reader with a one-sided picture. We claim that actual objectivity stems from ensuring that both sides are represented and that contextual information is provided when appropriate, and we further claim that neglecting these standard concerns results in multiple layers of reader bias. First and most obvious, readers are given the voice of the alleged rapist’s lawyer, but not the voice of the alleged victim’s lawyer, encouraging readers to form an alliance with the defendant. More important, in the process, the alleged victim—who is a child—is libeled without defense, adding to her public shame. And perhaps most important, readers are denied any context for understanding the complicated psychological devastation of child rape; instead, they are encouraged in their belief that rape accusers more often than not are compensating for some frivolous past wrongdoing, increasing readers’ skepticism when future rapes are allegated and contributing to a climate in which rape is misunderstood and implicitly acceptable.

In no way do we claim that Mr. Messing intended to encourage these biases. But this does not change the fact of their existence. Our call is for all reporters to follow the guidelines set out by their profession—to offer readers careful, fair representations of rape stories, as with other stories. More specifically, we call on reporters (1) to investigate both sides of any issue before publishing their findings and (2) to investigate the context of any issue, especially when that context sheds important light on the larger implications of an otherwise easily misunderstood piece of information.

Our hope is that, in the process, reporters will become more aware of the impact they have on their readers and take concrete steps against perpetuating myths about rape and sexual assault.

Excerpts from “’Kin Rape’ Cop: I Didn’t” by Philip Messing,
New York Post, November 10, 2006

The lawyer for a Manhattan cop accused of raping his 15-year-old stepdaughter yesterday called the alleged victim a "problem child" who "made false allegations" against his client

"She has been truant, a runaway and a disciplinary problem," said lawyer Mark Jay Heller… The 38-year-old cop, a decorated officer and 15-year veteran, was arrested Oct. 6 on Staten Island and charged with rape.

The girl says he attacked her over a five-year period, ending in 2004, when she was 12. Heller said the teen was angry because his client confiscated her computer to protect her from predators after learning she had a mildly provocative MySpace page.

Here is a response sent to the editor as part of the New York City Media Response Project, a collaborative volunteer effort run by Take Back The News

Dear Editor,

  Your article "Kin Rape Cop, I Didn't" was irresponsible reporting at its worse.  In a case involving the alleged rape of a girl starting at the age of 7 by her stepfather, your newspaper chose to give the defense attorney free reign to character assassinate THE CHILD.  Then, when you talk about the alleged rapist, you refer to him as a "decorated officer" and you describe his attorney's claim that he was the innocent victim of false allegations stemming from his attempt to protect his daughter from predators.   If this girl is indeed a runaway, truant and disciplinary problem, perhaps it is because she was raped by her stepfather from the age of 7 to 12.   When you report on child rape, you should have more respect for the victim and less for the rapist, and you should never dignify sleazy defense attorney's existence by printing their highly paid lies.  Thank you.

Laura Blasberg