Earlier this month, I had an interesting exchange with our local paper, The Tennessean, regarding an unusual policy they followed in reporting on a city council member who had resigned after lying about money that was used to post bond for his cousin, who was facing domestic violence charges. That council member, Loniel Greene, was also implicated in plotting with his cousin to keep the victim from attending court.
A case like this needs to be reported. There’s no question about that. The part I found objectionable was the fact that the victim of the domestic violence incident was named in the article.
For those not aware, naming victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or related crimes is considered potentially harmful to the victim. The standard practice for most publications is to withhold not only names, but any information which could be used to identify a victim.
The Tennessean is aware of this, and confirmed that their official policy is to name domestic violence victims. However, they do not disclose the identity of rape victims in their reporting. Why they feel the need to draw a line between those two categories, I have no idea.
Going back to this particular case, it was fairly easy to find a related article which contained a court document that, while not naming the victim, described her abuse in extensive detail. It took about two minutes for me to gather a significant amount of information about someone who was violently abused. What’s to keep Greene, or his cousin, or someone sympathetic to them from using that information to harass or harm the victim?
Furthermore, there is a very real danger of unintentionally defaming a victim, causing unnecessary damage to their well-being and reputation and exposing the publication to litigious claims of defamation. David Chase, a prominent Nashville developer, was charged with assaulting his then-girlfriend in 2014. The graphic details of the alleged assault were published alongside the victim’s name.
One year later, in June 2015, the case was dismissed. In their coverage of the dismissal, The Tennessean once again named the victim, additionally stating that she “lied and her accusations were not credible.”
However, earlier this month, it was revealed that District Attorney Glenn Funk struck a deal with Chase, who agreed to drop his civil suit against the city in exchange for a dismissal. While legal, this maneuver was not disclosed at the time and therefore calls into question the validity of the prosecution’s disparaging claims about the victim and the role of those claims as a possible distraction from the real reason for the dismissal. Furthermore, District Attorney Funk has filed a $200 million lawsuit against the reporter who exposed the deal, and who had earlier discovered prior criminal misconduct committed by Funk.
Knowing what they know now, I would find it hard to believe that The Tennessean would have written such a scathing incrimination of the victim. I still find it hard to believe that they did it in the first place.
The Tennessean did not respond to repeated requests for comment.