The NYT’s public editor, Byron Calame, reviewed the paper’s coverage of the Duke lacrosse case yesterday, focusing on the review of the case that ran in the Times last August. Critics lambasted that piece for its uncritical reliance on a police officer’s memo written “from memory” four months after the witness interviews it described. (Among other things, that memo contradicted another officer’s contemporaneous notes on the accuser’s descriptions of her attackers — and substituted descriptions that miraculously matched the three indicted players.)
But all this has been hashed over elsewhere. We were most interested in Calame’s discussion of whether the Times has acted correctly by continuing to withhold the name of the accuser:
My first instinct was that The Times should strongly consider adopting a policy of naming false accusers. Then I decided that the mental health of the Duke accuser and the failure of Mr. Nifong to limit the harm she caused by doing his job responsibly combined to keep this case from being a good one on which to debate such a policy change. But I hope Times editors will soon consider holding a discussion, free of deadline pressure, about what purpose the tradition of not naming sexual assault victims serves when their accusations are proved to have no merit.
We don’t have a problem with decision of many news organizations to name the accuser once the players had been declared “innocent” by the NC Attorney General. That said, Calame makes a very good point: This was not the ideal time to create policy from scratch.