Earlier this month, The New York Times ran a story about an 11-year-old girl who'd been gang-raped in Texas. That story by James McKinley Jr. received wide criticism for the way it covered the events. McKinley's article wondered how the 18 rapists could have "been drawn into such an act," and quoted a member of the community who said that "these boys have to live with this the rest of their lives." What McKinley's piece didn't really address was the victim herself, beyond noting that "she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s," and "would hang out with teenage boys at a playground."
Yesterday, the Times revisited the story. The follow-up article, which McKinley co-wrote with Erica Goode, puts much more emphasis on the 11-year-old victim, whose name has not been released. McKinley and Goode describe the girl's home life ("her family was in dire economic straits ... the water and electricity had been cut off at times"), her parents' health problems, and the trauma she underwent last fall, when she was "raped on at least six occasions" over a period of 12 weeks.
Last Friday, Times executive editor Bill Keller called McKinley's original story a "cringe-making one-off" and a "ham-handed article that led some readers to think we were blaming the 11-year-old victim," and said that "the only way to make amends was to order up a whole new story." This, apparently, is exactly what happened. Has the Times made up for its earlier error?
Yes, say writers like Hamilton Nolan at Gawker. Nolan calls the follow-up "a marked improvement on the first story," though he notes that it's also "an unceasing tale of poverty, abuse, deprivation, ignorance, sickness, and trauma." Eli Sanders at The Stranger agrees, saying: "Good on the Times for hearing the criticism, going back, trying again, and doing better." Sanders adds: "They should stay on this story, which remains full of threads that need even deeper examination, from the role that lack of available health care played in what happened... to the alarmingly large number of men who have been charged in connection with the gang rapes."
Amanda Marcotte at Slate writes that "this Times piece is a welcome reminder that we should remember the victims first and look to see how to prevent crimes like this in the future." And at Jezebel, a blog that had furnished some of the most visible and persistent criticism of the original Times coverage, Margaret Hartmann writes that "in general, the new article is a much more thorough portrait of the impact the disturbing crimes had on the victim and her family. It's just unfortunate that it took the paper of record two tries to adequately report the story."
Not So Fast, say others. Joe Coscarelli at The Village Voice gives the Times credit for "attempting to accurately portray the situation in the troubled town," but adds that "the racial issues" are "still left unaddressed." All 19 men arrested in the case are black, while the girl is Hispanic--circumstances that have stirred up a lot of ugly accusations and race-based epithets in the Texas town. Coscarelli writes that "the Times' decision to skip that angle, which seems like it would be hard to ignore, might speak mostly to the need to ignore more controversy."
Meanwhile, Choire Sicha at The Awl just rolls his eyes. "That 11-year-old in Texas is actually a victim!" Sicha exclaims. The Times describes the story as a "nightmarish ordeal," to which Sicha responds, "You think?" And over at Business Insider, Glynnis MacNicol takes the opportunity to twit an old-media institution. "Congratulations Bill Keller!" MacNicol writes. "The NYT is one step closer to doing what the blogosphere already does well, namely: self-correcting, updating, expanding, and all in a timely manner to boot."
Jonah Goldberg Is Much Worse, says blogger Joel Mathis, who connects the new Times article with Goldberg's column in the Los Angeles Times today. Goldberg declares that "feminism as a 'movement' in America is largely played out. The work here is mostly done." But actually, says Mathis, "we still live in a country where a community of men will take advantage of a young girl, and the community that surrounds them will struggle to justify their actions or blame the young girl, and where a major national newspaper will occasionally unthinkingly print those justifications without contradiction. That suggests to me there's still plenty of work for feminism to do at home, as well."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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