Ethics Codes Either Firm, Or Useless

Perhaps you noticed during our coverage of the “Steubenville rape case” that we did not name the two teenage defendants until after they had been convicted of assaulting a girl. That was our policy from the first story we ran, last summer.

Some people did notice. A few accused us of being part of an alleged coverup of the crime. Folks who know us understand we’ve never been part of any coverup.

So why didn’t we use the juveniles’ names until after they were convicted?

Because, according to the code of ethics that has governed this newspaper for generations, that would have been wrong. For as long as I’ve been associated with the News-Register and The Intelligencer, it has been our policy not to use the names of juveniles accused of crimes unless their cases are being handled in adult court. That usually means they are accused of murder.

Remember, people are innocent of crimes until they are proven to be guilty. It has been our feeling that minors deserve a bit more protection than adults against being ridiculed and harassed for crimes they may not have committed.

But many news media outlets which had the same policy went ahead and publicized the two teens’ names. Why?

Because the names were widely available, some of our fellow journalists said. And, some added, it was a high-profile case. Finally, there was pressure from the so-called “social media” to reveal the boys’ names.

In other words, some media outlets allow their ethics to be guided by what is possible, and whether they are under pressure to take certain action.

That isn’t ethics. It’s opportunism.

Much already has been said about the social media aspects of the case. In some ways, technology helped degrade the young victim of the rape. In other ways it helped the authorities – who, by the way, also were not engaged in a coverup – solve the crime. And, as Kathleen Parker suggests in her column on page C2 of today’s paper, technology may have been a contributor to the crime.

But here’s the bottom line: Either we abide by our codes of ethics or we do not. If we allow “social media” or any other circumstance to alter them, heaven help us.

Myer can be reached at: