August 01, 2006
The writer of a letter that will appear in tomorrow’s paper writes:
“I find the trend that reporters feel the need to include specific details of sexual assaults in their articles to be disturbing. . . . Including the graphic details of Matt McGonagle’s assault of a 14-year-old is salacious and crude. Isn’t the connotation of sexual assault horrifying enough?”
The story in question led Saturday’s front page. It told of the guilty plea of Matt McGonagle, an assistant principal at Rundlett Middle School, to charges of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student in Gilford six years ago. The story gave the specifics of the charges in the second paragraph: McGonagle had “repeatedly touched and kissed the student and, on one occasion, penetrated her vagina with his finger.”
There was a time when this level of detail would not have appeared in a news story. But as unpleasant as these facts are to read, I think they provide essential information that readers are better off knowing.
Consider the letter writer’s question: “Isn’t the connotation of sexual assault horrifying enough?”
The connotations of sexual assault are many, some worse than what McGonagle admitted to, some not. Especially if I were the parent of a girl at Rundlett or any other school where McGonagle had worked, I’d want to know specifically what he did. Many of the Monitor’s readers are such parents.
The specifics of the charges were cited in a press release on McGonagle’s plea. The reporter, Melanie Asmar, asked her editor, Hans Schulz, how graphic she should be in the story. He instructed her to use the specifics. That was the right call.
But I have two further thoughts about this matter.
First, the details appeared in the second paragraph of a story on page A-1 of the paper. They might have been a little less jarring to readers had we reported them lower in the story.
Second, it seems to me our staff has been reporting more extensively on more sex crimes than in the past. This is an impression, not a fact, but I want to talk it over with editors, see what they think and act accordingly.
That said, a local middle school assistant principal pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student was an important news story, worthy of the play we gave it. And the specifics of the charges were vital information, allowing the public to gauge how well the authorities had handled the case and whether the punishment fit the crime.
Posted by Mike Pride at August 1, 2006 06:00 PM
Sometimes, I think, the facts however crude and disturbing the may be, need to be laid on the table.
While I certainly understand where the reader is coming from, I do think it might be evidence of the fact that much of the American population is extremely uncomfortable with the public discussion of sex, period. Much less specific discussion of sexual crimes.
Personally, I feel the term "sexual assault" is a rather benign term at this point in our culture. It's just a courtroom euphamism to cover up the true reality of things.
Hense senseless griping about how the paper published details instead of actually being outraged about what happened to the young girl involved.
It really makes me wonder.... If adults can't handle the crudeness of an event in their community and demand that the local paper use euphamisms to hide the reality, how on earth are they ever going to talk to their children about sex and sex related crimes? I think the even harsher reality is the vast majority of parents don't.
Posted by: Nicole Wheeler at August 1, 2006 08:40 PM
I agree with Eric that this type of detail in a news article is very uncomfortable to read, however, it also helps the public in understanding that sexual assault is not just having intercourse with someone, but a variety of other "variables" which some might consider harmless because they are not intercourse. The detail was uncomfortable and embarrassing, but if even one person who is engaging in those activities read that article and relized what they were doing was wrong, then the article was worth writing and suffering the discomfort of being read. Unfortunately, I believe there are too many men who don't recognize the behavior they engage in is not harmless, but sexual assault. The Monitor took the correct course of action in printing the article with its embarassing detail.
Posted by: Lorrie Carey at August 2, 2006 12:00 PM
I just spent some of my Sunday reading time reading your editorials. Like a good book, I couldn't stop until I'd finished the last page. Each was so thoughtful and well-written.
It's been a while since I spoke with you, and certainly a little distance now from my previous political career, such as it was. I have returned to graduate school for a degree in writing. In the meantime, I am working on some personal writing projects, including a series of short essays called "What were we thinking?" They are all about us baby-boomers and the world then (when we were young) compared to now.
At any rate, thank you for your editorials, and for that extra inspiration today.
Posted by: Mary Brown at August 27, 2006 12:17 PM