Sex Sting, Mug Shots Included

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?

 

Media Moves to Block Gag Order in High-Profile Trial

Three media entities–including a gay-run blog and the parent company of hyperlocal TBD.com–have filed a motion to intervenee to challenge a gag order imposed in the civil trial of three gay men in DC who are accused in the wrongful death of a heterosexual man found dead in the home of the men who were in a three-way relationship.

The blog, Who Murdered Robert Wone,is joined by Albritton Communications–which ownd TBD.com, the ABC affiliate in DC, Politico, and TBD TV–and Washingtonian magazine.  The “murder bloggers” have taken the lead in covering the mysterious death, including the failed criminal case against the three men accused of a cover-up. With the criminal case over, the family of Wone–who was spending the night at the home of his college friend who was also a prominent gay right activist when he was found dead and the scene cleaned up–has filed a multi-million dollar civil suit against the three men who acknowledge being in a three-way relationship that included BDSM role-play.

Here’s the Washington Blade’s summary of the legal move by the three men trying to impose a gag order:

In a little noticed development, attorneys representing gay defendants Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward filed an Oct. 8 motion in D.C. Superior Court asking for an order barring the attorneys from making “extra-judicial statements” about the case to anyone outside the courtroom.

“Most of the media coverage has clearly implicated the defendants of some wrongdoing, premised upon multiple inaccurate and untruthful assertions of the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) and the U.S. Attorney General’s Office for the District of Columbia,” the defense motion states.

“The press coverage is necessarily having the effect of poisoning the jury pool, which [threatens] to make it impossible for the defendants to find an impartial jury,” it says.

The three defendants have been named in a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit in connection with the 2006 murder of D.C. attorney Robert Wone, who was stabbed to death in their upscale townhouse near Dupont Circle.

Earlier this year, a Superior Court judge found the men not guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and evidence tampering in connection with the murder. No one has been charged with the murder.

How a Park Arrest Ended in a Death

One of area of concern about how gay issues are covered in the media has always involved coverage of “park cruising” and police stings.  Names and picture of suspects, irresponsible explanations of what is going on, you name it.

Those problems don’t necessarily haunt the New York Times story of the death of DeFarra Gaymon, who was shot by a sheriff’s deputy at a park known for men cruising for sex with other men, but the story raises many issues nonetheless. The killing has been covered by the Wall Street Journal, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Newark Star-Ledger, and other outlets.

A fatal shooting in Newark on a Friday night is hardly a rare occurrence, but this was neither the usual spot nor the usual suspects, leaving many questions.

The officer, whose name was not released because of his undercover work, had been on what is not usually a particularly dangerous assignment, scouring the park, in northern Newark, for men seeking sex.

Mr. Gaymon was a successful businessman, the president and chief executive of Credit Union of Atlanta. On the Web site of the Credit Union Executives Society, Mr. Gaymon said his “ultimate career goals” were to lead a $150-million-plus credit union and provide “financial literacy programs that help employees and members become financially savvy.”

He added, “It’s just my passion to share information that can change a person’s financial life.”

Mr. Gaymon was one of the organizers of the reunion, which he drove up to attend. “All the people that knew him say you never met a kinder, nicer, more gentle person, and they’re stunned about what happened,” said John Joyce, the president of the Montclair High School Alumni Association.

The officer and his partner were patrolling the park in plain clothes, part of an operation that has been going on for years, said Mr. Laurino, the prosecutor.

The family questions the account of the officer, saying Gaymon wasn’t violent and not likely to resist an arrest, but interestingly don’t challenge the report that the married father of four was cruising for sex with men.

I don’t find much wrong with the journalism so far.  Reporters really only have the police and prosecutor’s reports to go on so they are limited in what they can tell about the story.  The family is talking in Atlanta, where Gaymon was from, but journalists in New York need to work to include the family’s view that the cop is lying.

I’d also like to see more reporting on why Gaymon ended up there. Rob Smith at Huffington Post has a provocative post about how “black homophobia now has a body count” and attribute’s Gaymon’s cruising to homophobia in the black community.

There also should be reporting on why these kinds of stings are used to begin with.  This kind of policing is defensible, of course, but when it ends up in the kililng of an unarmed man it raises questions about the necessity for these kinds of actions.

It would also be interesting to see reporting on why park cruising still exists, even in a NYC suburb, and understand it’s role in “gay” culture.

Is WaPo About to Rethink Its Policy of Identifying Gays?

A column by Washington Post Ombudsman Andy Alexander and a follow-up on his blog suggests that the paper is on the verge of reconsidering its policy on identifying the sexual orientation of people in news stories. The possible change comes as many have questioned the paper’s unwillingness to identify a murder victim as gay after it became clear he met his alleged attackers on a gay sex chat.

Here’s Alexander’s take on the paper’s failure to identify the fact that Brian Betts, the murdered middle school principal, was gay even though it was widely reported in the LGBT and mainstream press.

When police spokesmen initially confirmed that Betts was gay, they clearly were not signaling a direct link between his sexual orientation and the crime. At that time, The Post was correct in not following the media pack.

But the disclosure of the phone-sex chat shifts the balance to disclosing Betts was gay, for several reasons.

Mentioning it provides readers with a potential piece of the puzzle surrounding his murder. And disclosure highlights the dangers people can face in arranging liaisons with strangers through phone-sex chat services, as mentioned in a Post story Wednesday. Also, Betts’s slaying is similar to others locally and nationally. “The fact that he was gay is not as important as the fact that he was most likely targeted because he was gay,” said Kelly Pickard, co-chair of a local group called Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence.

But mostly, disclosure is important to The Post’s credibility. Reader Glenn Merritt of Vienna complained about being kept in the dark. “Just about everyone now knows” that Betts was gay, he wrote me, “unless, of course, the reader relies solely on The Washington Post for news.”

And here’s Alexander’s follow-up on his blog.

Since the column appeared, a handful of gay and straight Post journalists, including two supervising editors, have contacted me to say they believe there should be a review of the policy governing when to reveal sexual orientation. It’s a good discussion to have.

Post policy says: “A person’s sexual orientation should not be mentioned unless relevant to the story… When identifying an individual as gay or homosexual, be cautious about invading the privacy of someone who may not wish his or her sexual orientation known.”

Defining “relevant” is the challenge. It can be relevant if a closeted gay lawmaker promotes anti-gay legislation. And I felt it was relevant to disclose that Betts was gay, especially because the circumstances of his murder were similar to others locally and nationally.

This is good news, if they follow through. This is not the first time the paper has wrestled with a policy that seems to be out-of-date.  While the policy of not identifying a person’s sexual orientation unless relevant made sense at one time, changing views of being openly LGBT mean that being gay or lesbian isn’t something that needs to be hidden and only disclosed in the rare circumstance.  There’s no need for coded language or omissions, especially in a high-profile case like the Betts murder where it was being reported broadly.

While there are many in Washington who may not want their sexual orientation identified for job reasons, it’s not as though the WaPo is suddenly going to stick a sexual orientation label on every person in every story.  Instead, it is a judgment when there is news value or further develops the story, even if it doesn’t meet the higher threshold of “relevant.”

The fact that both LGBT and straight staff at the WaPo feel it’s time for a change also demonstrates the need for diversity in the newsroom.  Without LGBT voices at the WaPo, how would this conversation be different?  While Alexander has been a strong voice in favor of better coverage of the LGBT community, there is also a need for voices inside the newsroom–including LGBT staffers who can bring their unique perspective on the news decisions.  This has always been one of the reasons NLGJA exists, both to improve coverage and also guarantee there are LGBT voices inside newsrooms.

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When is a Crime Victim’s “Gay Lifestyle” News? II

Last week, we discussed the reporting on the murder of a D.C. middle school principal and questions about whether his “gay lifestyle” had played a role in the murder.

News today that the victim allegedly met the suspects on a sex chat line or website and that three 18-year-old men have been arrested. So let’s look at how the story is being reported:

Washington Examiner:

A third teenager has been charged with the shooting death of District school principal Brian Betts in what authorities are calling a robbery-murder set up through online and phone sex chats.

Dontra Q. Gray, 18, of Oxon Hill, is accused of first-degree murder, armed robbery and conspiracy. Montgomery County County police said Gray and two other teens got themselves invited to Betts’ Silver Spring home after a brief chat through Adam4Adam, a Web site catering to gay men seeking romance. Betts’ body was found April 15 after the 42-year-old didn’t show up to work at the Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson. He had been shot in the back, but there was no sign of forced entry.

Washington Post

Montgomery Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said that there was no indication the teens had any relationship with Betts before the educator arranged a meeting with one or more of them on the phone line. Officers said they think the trio used the chat line to find a target to rob.

“We believe the motive for this crime was most likely robbery,” Manger said. Officers offered no details about how the robbery went wrong or why Betts was shot.

Betts, 42, principal at Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson and one of the public faces of education reform efforts in the District, was found dead in his Silver Spring home April 15 by colleagues worried after he failed to show up for work.

At first, the case was a mystery. No one could imagine who would want to harm an educator who knew many of his students by name, greeted them and parents outside the school in the mornings and, to many, became a father figure.

NBC4

Police believe the motive was robbery, Manger said. Police don’t believe the slaying was random, though they can’t rule that out. The medical examiner ruled it a homicide by gunshot.

One or more of the suspects connected with Betts through a phone chatline the night he was last seen alive. Betts found the chatline through a computer website described as a “sexually-oriented, social-networking website,” Manger said.

Washington Blade

Three 18-year-old men who allegedly met gay D.C. middle school principal Brian Betts through a telephone sex chat line were arrested this week in connection with his shooting death, police said.

Alante Saunders, whom Montgomery County Police said had no fixed address, and Sharif Tau Lancaster, who lives along the 5300 block of Fifth Street, N.W., in D.C., were charged Monday with first-degree murder, armed robbery and the use of a handgun in a felony crime of violence.

Deonatra Q. Gray, who lives along the 1300 block of Southview Drive in Oxon Hill, Md., was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder, one count of armed robbery, and one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

“While the motive of the crime is still being investigated, we believe that it is most likely going to be robbery,” said Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger during a news conference Monday.

Betts, 42, was found shot to death April 15 in a second floor bedroom of his house in Silver Spring, Md. Police said they found his fully clothed body after colleagues at D.C.’s Shaw Middle School, where he worked as principal, became concerned when Betts failed to report to work.

MetroWeekly

Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger said Monday that it appeared Betts met his assailants though a social-networking site. The Washington Examiner, quoting an unnamed police source, identified that site as “Adam4Adam.” Sgt. C. Thomas Jordan, a police spokesperson, could not confirm which site Betts may have used. Adam4Adam, an entirely free social-networking site, bills itself as a tool “for gay men looking for friendship, romance, dating or a hot hookup.”

Following a similar report from NBC4.com prior to Manger’s confirmation of Betts’s use of a social-networking site, Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) issued a community advisory April 23, also citing the Dec. 27 murder of Anthony Perkins, a 29-year-old gay man. According to an investigator in that case, Perkins was lured to the 2900 block of 4th Street SE by someone he spoke with on the “DC Raven” telephone chat line. In the Perkins case, Antwan Holcomb has been charged with first-degree murder.

It’s interesting how the hook-up/chat line is described in the different reports and how Betts’ sexual orientation is discussed (or not discussed) by the outlets. I’m not sure the Washington Post has ever identified Betts as gay–the WaPo coverage has bordered on hagiography–or described the theory of the case as a potential hook-up killing.

Should the fact Betts is gay be reported? Does it make the gay community look bad that he was possibly hooking-up on a gay chat line? Should that matter?

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