Last week I wrote about CBS-LA posting an abundance of identifying information about men arrested in a gay cruising sting. Again, I'm not going to get into the nature of those stings, which law enforcement generally acknowledges do little to nothing to stop public sex (even in this case, lifeguards took the doors off stalls in that bathroom to stop cruising; even they knew the undercover sting wouldn't do anything but ruin people's lives).
To review what CBS-LA did:
- They broadcasted names, birth dates, and mug shots of the men arrested on television
- They embedded those mug shots in their online story on the sting operation
- They created a separate, downloadable PDF with names, birth dates, and mug shots
Usually these stories don't get much attention - a few lefty queer bloggers and a local LGBT publication will pick up it and that's about it. But a mainstream nonprofit, the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, called out CBS and the station responded:
"Like other stations in the market, we reported on a significant local news story regarding the arrest of a large number of individuals," KCAL said in a statement. "Our coverage, like that of several other media outlets, included showing the official photos of those arrested, photographs that were provided by the Manhattan Beach Police Department. This reporting is consistent with our long-held journalistic standards by which we provide the public with information and photos from law enforcement agencies about arrested individuals on a regular basis without regard to their gender, race or sexual orientation."
Looking at articles on their site from last week about crimes committed where the perpetrator is known and arrested, I see little evidence that this is how they normally run these stories. No story on CBS LA's site, that I could find, included a downloadable pdf with the names, birth dates, and mug shots of the perpetrators. Mug shots were often, but not always, run with the broadcast. They were put online (where they can be more easily saved and distributed) less than half the time. Birth dates were never included.
I didn't go that far back on their website, so maybe their "long-held journalistic standards" stopped being applied recently. Or maybe they're just lying.
(That "without regard to their... sexual orientation" bit is also just comedy. Yes, even straight men would have been outed if they were the ones arrested! Just think of all the men who've lost their jobs after their employers found out that they were straight.)
Even if they did this sort of thing with every story about a crime, that wouldn't justify putting the mug shots and names of everyone arrested in a gay sex sting online. The public's need to know - which is very low in cases of nonviolent crime - does not outweigh the privacy concerns of the people arrested - which are very high, since being outed carries financial, emotional, and physical risks.
What's the point of putting up photos on this specific article? People are charged with misdemeanors like loitering and "lewd conduct" (a catch-all ordinance often used to arrest gay men for discussing sex in public even if their intent was to go home to actually do it) and a news organization feels a need to out them as gay or bi? They didn't even attempt to justify their actions in that statement; it's just obvious to them that someone who is accused of a crime should expect to have their life possibly turned upside-down, no matter how minor the crime and no matter whether they actually did anything wrong.
Just because the police gave them all these pictures doesn't mean that they should put it online. The press is supposed to be a check on government abuse of power, not a willing accomplice.
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