David Newhouse, editor of the Harrisburg, Pa.-based Patriot-News, criticized the New York Times on Wednesday for its Victim One story, which he said was so detailed that, even though the paper doesn’t name the boy who was allegedly abused by Jerry Sandusky, “googling certain information in the profile results in the young man’s name within seconds.”
“I read the Times story and immediately wanted to write something – to our readers – about the approach we were taking in reporting this scandal,” Newhouse tells me in an email. “Remember that, here in central Pennsylvania, The Patriot-News has taken a lot of heat for dogging this story. Just read the comments on our web site. I simply wanted to say to local readers that protecting the victims always was and remains a high priority for us. Remember, this may be a national story to the national press but, for us, these are local kids. People are deeply disgusted by the allegations against Sandusky but rightly concerned that the story not hurt innocent people in the process, whether they are alleged victims, their families and friends, or Penn State students.”
Reaction to Patriot-News editorial has been “amazingly passionate,” the editor says. “Not too many people saying ‘mmmm, I kind of agree’ or ‘hmmmm, not sure I agree.’ Instead, many people who disagree have taken the tone of Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple, who attacked the piece hammer and tongs.” (“From petty, Newhouse goes hypocritical.”)
Newhouse adds: “At the same time, I have heard from numerous readers and fellow journalists who felt just as strongly the other way. I’ll give you just two examples — without the senders’ names since they didn’t say I could share these. They’re both from nationally known journalists working for major publications:
I’m so upset about this thing I can hardly breathe. Literally. I support you 100%. Been working on an (unrelated) investigative story for 7 months… the last 2 months we’ve been vetting and re-vetting to remove and alter details so we can protect the identity of a criminal informant who – if you read it – you’ll probably agree isn’t worthy of being protected at all. And NYT couldn’t similarly protect the victim of the most publicized sex abuse case in recent memory? A polite apology from them would help matters. Should we expect one? I feel like they’re weighing public opinion right now and thanking their lucky stars that you called them out at holiday/travel time as opposed to a normal workday. Stand your ground.
I want to say “bravo” to your statement regarding the unconscionable reporting of details about Victim 1 by other media outlets. Where the editors at the New York Times were on that one is beyond me. Bottom line, your newspaper’s reporting has been both extraordinary AND responsible.
Newhouse hasn’t heard from Times — “I never expected to. They have every right to print what they want” — but I emailed the paper’s PR department on Friday to get reaction to the editor’s piece. Here’s what the Times says:
We had extensive discussions about the story before it was published. We believe it was careful and sensitive and gave some important insight into the victim’s ordeal. By not publishing his name, we hoped to preserve some privacy for him in the wider world, despite the fact that his identity is already widely known in the college community.
“By the way, I love the New York Times,” Newhouse tells me. “It’s a great newspaper (I read every day) which normally exemplifies the highest journalistic ethics. That’s one reason I was so surprised – and disappointed – by this story.
“I also love and celebrate good journalism wherever I find it. People like Wemple attacked what I wrote on the grounds that it was some kind of sour grapes because we didn’t get the story. That’s just silly. Pennsylvania has a robust newspaper community and I have good friends and respected colleagues at papers that beat us all the time – folks like Stan Wischnowski and Mike Days of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dave Shribman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jim Cuddy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and so on. I have no problem getting beat with a good story. I’m quite used to it! And with the media now swarming State College, plenty of news organizations, including the Times, have done excellent reporting. Bravo.
“My point was that this could have been a very powerful story about how Sandusky befriended boys like Victim One without revealing details that had nothing to do with the allegations but helped to identify him even more widely.
“And to those who said he was already outed locally – which was true, thanks to misguided earlier reporting by various news outlets – I would only say that at least one major newspaper emailed the boy’s attorney on Wednesday to say they had identified Victim One from googling details in the Times’ story and wanted to know why they shouldn’t now name him. In fact, seeing that was one of the things which really pushed me to write. At the very least, the Times story seemed to make a bad situation worse.”
UPDATE: I alerted Erik Wemple to Newhouse’s sour grapes/silly remark. He emailed:
As to the “silly” question, it’s good to hear Newhouse’s assurances that there are no sour grapes here. Because that’s the impression that the first part of his essay casts. It’s a good debate and, again, the Patriot-News has done much good work on the story. I just thought this piece wasn’t the P-N at its best.