American culture and media
critic David Rosen, writing in Counterpunch magazine, undertakes a detailed comparison of the New York Times coverage of
Catholic sex abuse and its reporting practices for other sex scandals.
Reading the Times’ coverage,
it is striking that comparable issues of sexual abuse have not received
the same sustained, in-depth, often front-page and editorial attention.
Why has the sexual abuse of female soldiers in the military, of youthful
inmates in the nation’s prison system, of boy scouts, of teen prostitutes,
of Mormon girls and of youths within the Brooklyn Hassidic community
not received the same scale of reporting? Indeed, these issues have
been covered in occasional daily news reports. But why have they not
received a comparable degree of attention? As evident by what it chooses
to focus its investigative resources on, the Times, like other information
organizations, articulates an often-unstated political perspective.
Rosen notes that the New York
Times has given sometimes extensive coverage to sex scandals involving
celebrities and politicians, the Texas polygamy scandal involving the
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), the
use of rape as a military weapon in the Congo, the sexual abuse of boy
scouts by scoutmasters, the sexual abuse of imprisoned young people;
and the failed policies relating to sex offenders.
But attention to these issues
was “episodic”, tied to current events, without sustained in-depth
analysis or follow-up.
An illuminating example
of this type of reporting involves the increasing incidence of rape
and sexual abuse of U.S. female military personnel. The
Times recently reported on the Defense Department’s release of its
annual report “Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military
Services.” While the Times has addressed this issue repeatedly over
the last decade, it has, like its coverage of Mormon
polygamists, never undertaking a rigorous or in-depth investigation
of the institutional sexism at the heart of the military.
At the same time, the newspaper
seems to have deliberately avoided writing about sexual molestation
of minors in Jewish communities of New York. One of Rosen’s examples
is the following:
In March 2010,
“Rabbi” Baruch Lebovits, a Brooklyn Hasidic Jew, was found guilty
on eight of 10 counts of sexually molesting Jewish teens in 2004 and
2005. Lebovits, was the owner of a Borough Park travel agency and faces
up to seven years in prison. This story was not reported by the New
York Times but by the New York Daily News.
Rosen, who is the author of
the 2009 book “Sex Scandals America: Politics & the Ritual of
Public Shaming”, sums up his analysis noting that the extraordinary
“investigative resources and page space” that the New York Times
has allocated to coverage of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church,
while ignoring other “equally troubling examples of sexual abuse of
the young, of women and other powerless people, many living in the Times’
very backyard” raises questions about the paper’s “underlying
agenda or intentionality”.