By Paul Szaniawski
Rule number 1 in journalism: Get the story. Rule number 2 in journalism: Be accurate. Although I’m not sure what rule number 3 is (probably something about spelling people’s names correctly), it definitely doesn’t advise journalists to forget about ethics just to satisfy rule number 1.
But that’s exactly what happened in December when a story broke about an alleged sexual assault of a 25-year-old woman by several New Jersey state troopers.
One journalist went too far to get the story and forgot about the basics of this industry — ethics, integrity and credibility.
Paul Mickle, city editor of The Trentonian, played with the notion that the woman, described as a 25-year-old Rider student, isn’t speaking to the media because she lied about her entire claim.
“Hey, Miss, if you really were raped by a group of New Jersey troopers that night, you better start screaming about it in public now because that’s the only way anyone in authority will look into your allegations,” Mickle said in a December opinion column.
His doubt questions the validity of the claim alleged by the rape victim. It is a ploy to entice the victim to come forward to identify herself. He adds fuel to the fire by taking aim at investigators. Mickle says they will only do their jobs when, and only when, she raises a fuss about what transpired. And according to Mickle, where better, than in the pages of The Trentonian?
“And the longer you wait to go public, the more everyone is going to believe the already floated story that you willingly took on all the guys that night — and that your real agenda is the big bucks of a civil lawsuit against the state,” Mickle said.
The editor seems to forget that perhaps the young woman in question may not want to go public because she doesn’t want to suffer embarrassment, or relive what may have happened to her. So he implies that since she hasn’t spoken yet, she must be lying about the entire ordeal as a tactic to gain a windfall from a lawsuit or settlement.
What makes this worse, is that Mickle has the authority to decide what is published. It’s a job that needs to be done responsibly. Instead, he used his power to run the opinion column on page 3, essentially the prime real estate of newspapers with a tabloid style layout, where they run their most important article of the day. It was his call as editor to place the column there that challenges the victim to step into the media’s eye.
Mr. Mickle, keep sitting by your phone. Keep hoping that phone call comes some day soon and you get your exclusive. Just don’t hold your breath.