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.