Column preview: Fairness to Stuttgart victims rightly trumps naming their rapist-father

One of the most read stories in Stars and Stripes this week was a disturbing account from Stuttgart of the court martial of an Army major convicted of raping his three young daughters over a period of years. The Stripes newsroom chose not to identify the major, on the grounds that it would identify his victims.

Though some commenters objected, I agree that fairness to the daughters trumped letting readers learn the identity of their rapist father. Withholding the names of victims of sexual assault -- deliberately omitting what would ordinarily be a fundamental fact -- was also consistent with policies and practices in most modern newsrooms.

The decision shows the larger meaning of fairness as a “news value.” It’s not just political balance. It’s how you treat the people you write about.

In the “Comments” attached to the story at stripes.com, one reader indignantly asserted that the omission was to protect the rapist – certain he saw a “good ‘ol boy” Army network doing for an officer what it would never do for an enlisted soldier. I’m familiar with that suspicion about the inequality of military justice, but it’s not even close in this case.

I’ll write more about this choice in a column next week.

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Tobias Naegele

Stars and Stripes ombudsman

Over 30 years as a journalist, Tobias Naegele has focused almost exclusively on military and defense issues, headed up the Military Times newspapers — Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times — from 1998 to 2014, establishing Marine Corps Times as its own distinct product during that time. Prior to then, he was editor of Navy Times, where he created its weekly Marine Corps Edition.

From 2004 to 2014, he was editor in chief of the Military Times products as well as Defense News, Armed Forces Journal, Federal Times, and a number of other magazines and websites, including Military Times Faces of the Fallen and its Hall of Valor, along with the weekly syndicated TV program This Week in Defense News with Vago Muradian. Under his leadership, the newsroom was consistently recognized with awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, Online News Association, Society of Professional Journalists, American Business Press Editors, Military Writers and Editors, White House Correspondents Association and more.

Tobias Naegele can be reached at naegele.tobias@stripes.com or (202) 761-0587.

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Congress created the post in the early 1990’s to ensure that Stars and Stripes journalists operate with editorial independence and that Stars and Stripes readers receive a free flow of news and information without taint of censorship or propaganda.

The ombudsman serves as an autonomous watchdog of Stars and Stripes’ First Amendment rights. Anyone who fears those rights are imperiled should alert the ombudsman.

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