Thursday, March 06, 2003

And Don't Forget To Give Them Weapons, Too

The Commercial Appeal has a disturbing habit with notorious stories or people they want to demonise. They will give the street address of the person involved. I have real problems with this, as it seems to encourage readers to take action, and to facilitate finding these people in order to inflict damage or terror.

For example, this story from last year, about a man who shot an intruder in his home, came after a series of stories that gave the man's address, pictures of his house and neighborhood, maps and descriptions of the best way into his neighborhood!

The two people who tried to force the City to put the FedEx Forum issue to a city-wide referendum also had their personal addresses published. But, in a story of the Mayor's home in a wealthy, new south-Memphis neighbor, they failed to show a picture of his home, opting instead to show a picture of the entrance to the subdivision. And when local socialite Pat Kerr Tigrett was the victim of a robbery outside a local restaurant, they named and located the restaurant, but kept Tigrett's home address private.

So, in this story from today's Commercial Appeal, we see the familiar pattern. A local man has been charged with the heinous crime of sexual assault and rape against two children, ages 3 and 5. And once again, they print a map of his home, with a large black arrow saying "Suspect's home" and his street address.

Now don't for a minute think I have sympathy for this person. What he did deserves the harshest sentence we can manage. He should be locked away forever, if possible. But what public good is served in identifying him this way? Will we see, as we did with the previous shooting story, reports in the days ahead of harrassment and violence against him?

It strikes me that the paper is offering not basic journalism, but some kind of sub rosa "go ahead, boys" to readers. It should stop.

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