In the bad old days of covering the gay community, covering bar arrests and sex stings was de rigeur. Pictures of men being hauled from bar for being in “homosexual establishments” have been iconic symbols of pre- and post-Stonewall America.
If you think the days of listing the names and addresses of men arrested for misdemeanors in sex stings was a relic of another time, you’d be wrong. The Scripps Treasure Coast newspapers in Florida, on their TCPalm.com, have gone a step further (h/t Phil Attey) and even provided a slideshow of the ten men arrested in a recent sex sting at a local beach. The men range from 38 to 84, with most older than 60. Here’s how the side described the sting:
JENSEN BEACH — The Martin County Sheriff’s Officehas charged nine men with exposure of sexual organs and a 10th man with battery for engaging in sex acts in remote parts of public beaches and parks, according to arrest reports.
Between Wednesday morning and Thursday evening at Bob Graham Beach, 3225 N.E. Ocean Blvd., undercover detectives saw the men exposing their genitals to each other or to other undercover detectives stationed there, the report states.
If the story had ended there, it could have been a justifiable story. The community may have reasons to be concerned about sex taking place on public beaches. But going a step beyond that and publishing names, addresses, and even a slideshow of mug shots for men arrested for a misdemeanor is without journalistic justification.
The journalism question is whether all people arrested on misdemeanor (or even felony) charges end up with their names, addresses, and mug shots in a news story. If they don’t, then what’s the news reasoning for highlighting these men arrested in this situation for unusual coverage. Is there a public interest in having the men’s pictures? Sure, they’ve been arrested and therefore the pictures are fair game, but that doesn’t mean every person arrested for a misdemeanor should have their picture placed on a newspaper’s website.
Because these men have been singled out, I would be curious whether there was any discussion inside the newsroom about the news judgment in posting their pictures and names/addresses. Did anyone suggest that maybe such a story could be viewed as homophobic? Given recent reports about park arrests just a few miles down the coast in Palm Beach reported by the South Florida Gay News, did anyone question the police’s motives in conducting such a sting?