Protest Surrounds Providence Journal Sex-Arrest Coverage
February 6, 2002
Box 2378, Boston, MA 02107
By Mark Jurkowitz, Globe Staff
A group of gay activists gathered at The Providence Journal
yesterday to protest what they called "salacious and unbalanced
reporting" and "homophobia" that they believe drove its
coverage of the arrest of seven men for engaging in sexual activity at an
adult video store in Johnston, R.I., on Jan. 16.
The question of what kind and how much attention this kind of news warrants
took on dramatic import when one of the men arrested committed suicide a few
days after the story broke. Some activists and several top Journal editors
have agreed to hold a meeting Monday on the subject.
"Nobody is asking the the Journal to ignore the news,"
says Glennda Testone, interim director of regional media for the Gay &
Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "What weíre asking for is fairness
and balance. The coverage has just been so above and beyond what I think is
warranted by a story like this. ... We think it crossed the line into
"The arrest of the seven men ... has to be seen in the context of a
much larger battle between the town of Johnston and the regulation of adult
entertainment," says Journal deputy executive editor Carol Young.
"In that context, it was clearly a story for us." Young says the
sexual orientation of the men wasnít initially clear to Journal staff,
"and the fact that they were heterosexual or homosexual was not an
Starting on Jan. 18, the Journal published six stories on the undercover
police investigation that had led to the arrest of the seven men on
misdemeanor charges. The first story named the men, gave their ages, listed
their addresses or home communities, and stated their occupations or
employment status. The Norwich Bulletin also ran a story indicating that local
officials had expressed "shock" over the arrest of one of the men,
Stuart Denton, who was the planning and zoning chairman in nearby Plainfield.
On Jan. 20, Denton committed suicide. (Bulletin executive editor Keith
Fontaine did not return a phone call.)
A Journal piece on Jan. 27 provoked the most controversy and anger. A
lengthy Page One story described the allegations in detail and included photos
of the men.
"[If you are] publishing names, addresses, and photos, at least come
to an ethical understanding about why you do it," says David Abbott, a
gay activist in Providence who plans on attending the Monday meeting. "At
least elaborate a standard. ... How far do you want to go?"
Bob Steele, ethics director at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think
tank, says, "Just because the arrests were made and the police publicized
it doesnít mean we have to go big-time with the story. Iím troubled ...
anytime a small group of individuals pays such a profound price in public for
their misdeeds, when those misdeeds are not so horrific."
Asked about Dentonís suicide, Young said the paper also publicizes
drunken-driving arrests and the names of those arrested on charges of
soliciting prostitutes: "Every time we write a story about someone
arrested for anything, I guess the potential for shame and someone committing
suicide is there. We donít debate at all whether someone is going to commit
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