Coverage is irresponsible

Published 10:43 am Thursday, October 1, 2015

A recent criminal case in Lincoln County has drawn the attention of media from Jackson, with television stations and newspapers there covering it.

That’s nothing unusual, but the kind of coverage those media entities have provided is troubling.

A school bus driver for the Lincoln County School District was arrested on a charge of touching a child for lustful purposes. Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said the victim’s parents reported an alleged incident between bus driver Charles R. Davis and the child on Sept. 18. Per a recommendation from the District Attorney’s Office, charges were filed and a warrant was issued.

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Davis hasn’t been found guilty — he hasn’t even been indicted by a grand jury.

In the case of most criminal complaints, the media tends to focus on the alleged victim, especially when that person is perceived to be an innocent victim.

In the case of Davis, however, the media’s attention has focused not just on him, but on his family. There have been several interviews with family members proclaiming Davis’ innocence. Those family members talked about his experience as a bus driver, his faith and his good nature as reasons why the allegations must be false.

While those family members have every right to defend Davis in any way they see fit, the media coverage of that defense could have troubling consequences.  By allowing family members (who were not on the bus when the alleged incident occurred) to deny the allegations, the media has painted the alleged victim as a liar. That kind of coverage also makes it difficult for anyone in this community to serve on a potential jury because they will have already formed an opinion on the man’s guilt or innocence.

It’s not as if the alleged victim and her family are going to go on television to talk about the allegations. We would never expect that in an alleged sex crime. But that will be the media’s response if asked how the coverage could be so biased. “Well, the victim has every right to give her side of the story, too” they would say.

They will also say that the alleged victim was allowed to levy allegations when the criminal complaint was filed and that the suspect should have the same opportunity to defend himself. But that opportunity should come when the suspect enters a plea and — if the case makes it to court — in the courtroom, not in the media.

That’s just not how alleged sex crimes should be handled. The media should report the allegations as spelled out in court documents, and then report on the suspect’s guilt or innocence when the case proceeds, if it makes it to court. We shouldn’t let anyone defend any suspect with headlines like:  “A Lincoln County school bus driver is out of jail tonight…. Anne Parker spoke with his daughter about what really happened.”

But that’s the kind of coverage we’ve seen. By allowing the daughter to say that nothing criminal happened, the television station is making the alleged victim the bad guy here. That sort of victim shaming and blaming is unfortunately common with alleged sex crimes. When the media perpetuates this approach, it serves to keep other children and their parents from coming forward with allegations.

If your child complained of someone touching them inappropriately, would you come forward knowing that you and your child will be vilified in the community and painted as liars on television? Many will choose to keep quiet rather than face that. And the end result is that predators never face justice.

We hope Davis is innocent, not because we know him personally and believe he couldn’t commit the crime, but because it would mean the child wasn’t abused in any way. We also hope the media will be more responsible when it covers this case.



in the future.