Public Editor: Times Erred by Not Calling MT Crime a Rape

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After a Montana judge sentenced a man to just 60 days in jail after he repeatedly raped his 12-year-old daughter, more than 80,000 people signed an initiative seeking to have the judge impeached. When the New York Times caught up to the news, it headlined the story, “Montana Judge Criticized for 60-Day Sentence for Man Who Has Sex With His Preteen Daughter.” The newspaper changed the headline online several times, eventually including the word “incest.” The final headline “still fell short of the mark” because it didn’t call the crime a rape, says New York Times public editor Liz Spayd.

While the original headline improved when it backed off the idea that this was simply “sex,” Spayd says the final headline still didn’t go far enough by merely referring to “incest.” After all, the word incest to many readers might imply sex with a blood relative that is quite possibly consensual. Several other news sites didn’t hesitate to label this “rape” in their headline, among them CBS News, Time, the Washington Post, and New York magazine. (The Crime Report also used the word “rape.”)

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