Media: A Double Standard on Misdemeanor Cases?
Phoenix, February 8-14, 2002
150 Chestnut Street, Providence, RI 02903
By Ian Donnis
In the minds of critics, it was bad enough when the Providence Journal
published the mug shots of the seven men arrested during a January 16 police
raid at the Amazing Express video store in Johnston. But when the paper
republished the photo of one of the defendants, in a court story accompanying
coverage of a January 30 protest outside Town Hall, it was adding insult to
"I think I can probably safely say that other people arrested for
disorderly conduct [and misdemeanor charges involving public indecency] did
not face this kind of media coverage," says Glenda Testone of the Gay
& Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination, a New York-based media advocacy
group. "It just seems a little suspicious to me."
Itís not entirely surprising that the police raid of a separate adult
theater within Amazing Express got overexposed in print and broadcast
throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut (see "Itís a
scandal," News, February 1). Those arrested, after all, included the
lawyer husband of a judge in the "shoe bomber" case, a Republican
town official from Connecticut, a registered sex offender, and a high school
teacher from suburban Cumberland. Still, the aftermath took on a decidedly
different tone when Stuart Denton, the Connecticut official, committed
suicide, and critics blamed Johnston officials and the media for using the
seven men as pawns in the townís long-running battle with adult
Outrage has been particularly strong in the gay and lesbian community,
where many believe that the situation exploited shaming and homophobia, and
about a dozen protesters aired their grievances during a February 5
demonstration outside the Journal building on Fountain Street.
Joel P. Rawson, the paperís executive editor, declined through an
assistant to comment. But in a Journal story on the protest, Carol J. Young,
deputy executive editor, defended the paperís coverage. "All we did was
report and write about the arrests," Young said. "In the context of
a five- or six-year battle between the town of Johnston and adult
entertainment enterprises, those arrests became more newsworthy than other
arrests might have been."
A meeting in which Testone, Kate Monteiro, president of the Rhode Island
Alliance for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, and other activists plan to discuss
the coverage with Rawson and Young has been scheduled for Monday, February 11.
Given the staying power of homophobia, Testone says, "This is a place
where the media could really come in and do some good."
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