Mankato Free Press: On the side of naked bean-baggers
Lost in the fun and naked yard games was a serious ethical issue.
Late last month, the Mankato Free-Press reported on a game of naked bean bag that resulted in a criminal citation after neighbors complained about someone drinking and displaying their birthday suit while playing cornhole. In an added twist, cops ended up hauling the 28-year-old nude bean-bagger's clothes away and took them to the station, characterizing his boxers as "evidence."
The story was great fodder for chuckles and page clicks, but an interesting journalism ethics issue was lost in the midst of all the fun and naked yard games. Despite the fact that the man's name and mugshot is public information, the paper decided not to disclose it. In a blog post published yesterday, editor Joe Spear discussed the Free Press' rationale for keeping his identity on the DL.
Mankato Free Press
The story and all the details were part of the public record. That means name of person, address is included.
However, we chose not to name the young man in a good-hearted attempt to protect him from embarrassment. He's not really a criminal the public needs to fear, at least in our minds. In the news business, there's not a compelling reason to name him.
We suspect there may have been some alcohol involved here and it was an awfully hot day, in the young man's defense.
While we're appreciative whenever we learn of someone in the land of ParryQuist engaging in complex critical thinking, Spear's reasoning seems to lead down a slippery slope. If the idea is that everyone charged or cited for a non-dangerous crime deserves to have their identity kept secret, it could be argued that reporters and editors are obligated to keep information about a wide variety of criminal activities holed up in newsrooms. You can swallow that pill if you want, but it's some stiff medicine.
Police decided to cite the naked man for playing yard games while indecent. If that decision turns out to be a bad one either because he didn't deserve it or because officers got it wrong, then law enforcement should be held accountable. Likewise for prosecutors in instances where they decide to press undeserved charges. But getting reporters and editors involved in the business of making judgments about whether to disclose identities in cases where people are arrested for crimes where there arguably isn't a public safety component -- for instance, selling marijuana -- creates more problems than it solves and shifts the burden of responsibility from where it should be: With the public officials whose job it is to responsibly arrest, charge, and prosecute.
And at the end of the day, you just really want to see the naked cornholer's mugshot, don't you?
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