December 21, 2011

NY Times' public editor rebukes paper for outing alleged Sandusky rape victim

By David Paulin

The New York Times outraged many readers by outing one of Jerry Sandusky's alleged rape victims in an article that -- while not actually naming the alleged victim -- nevertheless revealed so much about him that his identify could be determined with a simple Google search.

On Sunday, the Times' public editor joined the chorus of disgust. Arthur S. Brisbane, the paper's in-house watchdog for newsroom ethics, rebuked the paper for violating a fundamental journalistic cannon -- failing to protect the identify of an alleged rape victim. It's a journalistic cannon that's rarely breached without compelling reasons.

So why did the Times do it? Specifically, how come it ignored what the Society of Professional Journalists, in its code of ethics, characterizes as a fundamental duty to "minimize harm" when reporting sensitive issues such as sexual assaults? In the Times' case, it was purely for the "transient benefits" of telling a good story, according to Brisbane's 1,136-word column, "Name Withheld, but Not His Identity."

In coming to this damning conclusion, Brisbane gathered opinions from a number of sources, including two unapologetic Times editors: Philip B. Corbett, associate managing editor for "standards"; and Joe Sexton, the sports editor whose department produced the Nov. 22 article.

Brisbane also quoted Michael Boni, the lawyer for the victim who was outed, who criticized the Times' story. "These guys knew it would out the kid," he said.

And at various points, Brisbane referred to a column by David Newhouse, editor of The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which has extensively covered the Sandusky story.

In his widely cited column published Nov. 23, Newhouse said his paper deliberately withheld details about Sandusky's alleged victim in order to protect the boy's identity. And he harshly criticized the Times for failing to do the same in respect to "Victim One," as the boy is known in the grand jury report.

Most significantly, Newhouse described an overarching reason for protecting Victim One's anonymity -- a reason Brisbane quoted when describing the potential for harm the Times caused by effectively 'outing' the boy.

As Newhouse explained:

"It is no accident that Victim One was only the second boy to come forward to authorities in what is alleged to have been more than 15 years of assaults by Sandusky. Stories like these, if anything, could discourage future victims from speaking up."

It was a persuasive argument, Brisbane observed -- one backed up by experts on sex crime victimization such as Dean Kilpatrick, a clinical psychologist at the Medical University of South Carolina and director of its National Crime Victims Center.

"Most victims, based on the research, are very reluctant to report," he told Brisbane. He said that "some of the top concerns are: 'I am afraid,' 'I don't want other people to find out,' 'I am afraid that people will blame me for what happened.'"

Brisbane added: "Because of this, Mr. Kilpatrick said, surveys show that fewer than one in five rape cases are ever reported to authorities. Sexual crime is the most underreported category of serious crime in the United States."

In his final rebuke, Brisbane wrote: "The traditional mandate to preserve privacy is there to protect sex crime victims -- a broader social purpose that, in my mind, outweighs the transient benefits of a single human-interest story."

The New York Times has a storied history, and during a golden era of American journalism -- during the late 1800s and early to mid-1900s -- it distinguished itself from myriad other New York City newspapers with its level-headed judgment and good taste. Those virtues were summed up in its motto printed on the upper left-hand corner of its front page and dating to 1896: "All the News that's Fit to Print."

Perhaps the Times needs a new motto to better reflect the news that it now considers fit to print.

Originally published at The American Thinker

An American's Nightmare in a Mexican Hospital

By David Paulin

A recent vacation in Mexico turned into a nightmare for a 79-year-old Illinois man. But it wasn't a devastating bus crash that almost killed U.S.-born Alfonso Acosta.

It was his stay in one of Mexico's government-run hospitals.

According to a harrowing account in the Quad-City Times, a daily newspaper, Acosta suffered a "major head injury, multiple facial fractures, broken ribs and a punctured lung." Yet for five weeks he lay "virtually untreated" at the hospital where he was taken in Toluca, about 40 miles southwest from Mexico City, say outraged family members in the United States who rushed to his bedside.

They found him in a hospital room with six other patients. They barely recognized him: His head was grotesquely swollen and his urine contained clotted blood from an improperly placed catheter. Alarmed at his deteriorating condition and by the indifferent and seemingly incompetent medical personnel who were treating him, family members began caring for Acosta themselves, all while dealing with medical personnel who were unable or unwilling to speak English.

Acosta's family members said they quickly learned that Mexico's government-run hospitals are far different than hospitals here. Medical provisions -- X-rays, blood work, and other hospital supplies -- had to be paid for up front, they said; and so they made regular trips to a local pharmacy to buy medicines or gauze. Eventually, they concluded the hospital wanted to keep Acosta bedridden for as long as possible in order to jack up his bill.

"The longer he stayed, the more money the hospital would get," Acosta's daughter Gina Lieferman, a sheriff's deputy in Iowa, was quoted as saying in the article, "Moline Man's Nightmare Vacation to Mexico."

"I accused them of holding dad hostage. It was a ransom situation," she said, adding: "The whole system operates on bribes and threats. At one point, I yelled, 'You're murdering my father!'"

Even as Acosta's condition deteriorated, hospital officials refused to discharge him, and it eventually took the intervention of the family's representative in Illinois, Congressman Bobby Schilling, a Republican, to discharge him and arrange for an air- ambulance flight to Houston.

A representative from Schilling's office, Andrea Pivarunas, was quoted as saying:

"There is no question that the family encountered an extremely challenging situation and that the Mexican government was of little help. Beyond being grateful we could help them overcome those challenges, we are looking at what can be done to help reduce the chance that others (could) go through what Mr. Acosta and his family endured for far too long."

The Acosta family also complained that the U.S. Embassy in Mexico failed to provide them with proper support, but Embassy officials said they did all they normally do.

The family's nightmare ended when Acosta was finally flown to a Houston hospital where he started to immediately receive the medical care that was never provided in Mexico. As the Quad-City Times explains:

When the jet carrying Acosta and Lieferman arrived at a Houston hospital, medical staff asked for his records from the hospital at Toluca.

"There was one page - one side of one sheet of paper," Mike Lieferman said. "After all those weeks in the hospital, there was nothing but a few notes."

Gina Lieferman hand carried a few X-rays, some of which contained stains from hospital workers setting their coffee cups on them.

Acosta's throat was in bad shape, probably from weeks of being on a ventilator tube, Lieferman said. Although doctors in Mexico had repeatedly declared he needed a tracheotomy, the procedure never was done.

"He got one in Houston almost immediately," Lieferman said. "The doctors in Mexico said his worst problem was a lung infection. The doctors in Houston had a different answer.

"They said his biggest problem was going all those weeks without treatment for his injuries. He spent his first week in Houston in the ICU."

The Quad-City Times' article is interesting on a number of levels, including how the nightmare story it tells contrasts with the excellent and humane emergency care that Mexicans -- including illegal and indigent immigrants - can count on getting at American hospitals, with medical personnel even making it a point to speak "medical Spanish" or having full-time translators available. Indeed, as the New York Times noted in an article in 2008 about larger numbers of poor immigrants seeking medical care at hospitals in the northeast, including Greenwich, Connecticut:

The number of illegal immigrants seeking emergency care at Greenwich has sharply increased since 2005 after the closing of United Hospital in the nearby Village of Port Chester, a community across the border in New York that has a high proportion of poor and working-class immigrants. In the year after United's closing, Greenwich's maternity load soared to 2,300 from 1,400.

Hospitals across New York State, New Jersey and Connecticut all report struggling with the costs of delivering emergency care and sometimes more to illegal immigrants and other uninsured patients, and many see it as their obligation.

The story of Alfonso Acosta's nightmare in a government-run Mexican hospital is worth considering the next time a self-serving Mexican official or open-borders advocate complains about how badly Mexican nationals are being treated in this country.

Originally published at The American Thinker