July 22, 2003

Does the "Blue Dot" Work in a Dot Com World?

Richard Roeper, a columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, makes this bet: "You watch. Well before Kobe Bryant's case goes to trial, some old-school news organization will make public the name of his accuser."

We all know that NBA superstar Bryant is charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a Colorado resort. What we don't know, at least not from newspaper or broadcast reports, is her name. The print and electronic press routinely withhold the names of victims of sex crimes, a tradition that dates to an era when being raped was more a stigma than, say, being murdered.

From an ethical standpoint, I'm not sure how I feel about the continued use of the "blue dot" - Roeper's reference to the obscuring graphic broadcasters floated over the face of the victim in the William Kennedy Smith rape case. In general, I favor more disclosure of information rather than less (especially in legal matters), but I'm also wary of freely unleashing the press jackals on unwitting victims. [ Read: How the National Enquirer tried to buy the Bryant story. ]

From a practical standpoint, though, the blue dot is useless in this dot-com era. Following Roeper's lead, in less than five minutes, using a Google search, I found the (alleged) name of Bryant's accuser, her (alleged) home address, her (alleged) email address and (alleged) photographs from her high school yearbook, "information that would have consumed a week of a reporter's life in the old days."

Roeper says that at the time of the William Kennedy Smith case (1991), "when the New York Times published (Patricia) Bowman's name - and then reversed itself and went back to "protecting" her anonymity - it was shocking for media insiders and news junkies alike."

"We didn't realize we were on the brink of an information revolution, in which facts (and non-facts) would be gathered and disseminated at the speed of light. We didn't realize how quickly it would all change."

Anyone want to take Roeper up on his bet?

 Richard Roeper Bryant's accuser can forget about anonymity
 Colummbia Journalism Review Naming the Victim

Posted by Tim Porter at July 22, 2003 07:44 AM