Last edited: February 14, 2005

Media: A Double Standard on Misdemeanor Cases?

Providence Phoenix, February 8-14, 2002
150 Chestnut Street, Providence, RI 02903
Fax: 401-273-0920

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 injury.

"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 entertainment.

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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