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Becky with the bad bias

In her op-ed “Outrage,” columnist Jacquelyn Thorbjornson ’19 took the mainstream media to task for not covering a rape allegedly committed by undocumented immigrants at a high school in Rockville, Md. 

Thorbjornson alleges that the Rockville case should have been reported by mainstream media outlets. She conflates the Rockville case with that of Brock Turner, the Stanford athlete whose sexual assault conviction was covered in the national news. She claims that “the only significant difference between the two cases is the immigration status of the alleged attackers.” This is blatantly false.

The case of Brock Turner became national news not only because it was disturbing but also because Turner faced such a small punishment. It was a case of local news until the ruling. The sentence was three-month’s incarceration when it could have been 14 years — that’s what caused outrage. The published testimony of the victim under oath — that’s what caused outrage. The portrayal of Brock Turner as a boy deserving of a second chance when he was really a straight, white adult male— that’s what caused outrage. There was outrage not only because of the rape but also because of the preferential treatment of his sentencing because he is a straight white male.

These are concerns that that transcend local news. The fairness of the justice system is of critical importance to a democracy at the national level. A single crime is not.

Notably, Brock Turner’s story became national news only after the case had been heard and decided. So no, the immigration status of the alleged rapist is not the “only significant difference.” I do not intend to diminish the claim of the student victim. The crime, if it occurred, deserves outrage. But it is highly suspect to blame the alleged perpetrator’s immigration status for the lack of coverage in this case. This is clearly local news.

Crimes like rape unfortunately happen every day. To cover every single one on the national level would not only be impossible, but imprudent when terrorists are attacking London and Republican health care bills are dying. The “liberal media” is not the outlier in this situation. The only groups who have pushed this story to the national level are Fox News, Breitbart News Network, and the White House.

Why this incident? Why make national news of a case that has not been tried? Why allege guilt when facts have not been settled? Thorbjornson’s call to spread information about this incomplete case may have less to do with the alleged crime itself and more to do with the identities of the accused. There is no justice in this appeal. The bias to be highlighted here, if any, is why the case in Rockville is important for issues of sexual assault when so many other cases that remain in local news are not.

When national outlets waited to report on this case, it wasn’t biased headline selection. It was a case of good national reporting — reporting that finds facts, tells complete stories, is relevant to the nation, and does not rely on the basest of fears and emotions to get to the truth of a matter.

Ryan Chavez is a sophomore at Princeton University and can be reached at rdchavez@princeton.edu.

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