From the beginning of the Warren Jeffs trial, no photos were taken of the alleged victim (a girl who at the age of 14 was married to her 19-year-old cousin). We saw her on the stand and we saw her daily in court sitting with her husband and her lawyer, watching the proceedings.
A judge’s order prevented photos of Jane Doe or her family members. Professional ethics prevented us from photographing her as well. Most news organizations, including the Tribune, don’t name or identify rape victims.
(In fact, early in the trial a pool photo moved that repeatedly showed the victim’s first name in a powerpoint slide. Upon raising the alarm, I was told that the photo was moved with the idea that each agency would make their own decision on whether or not to use it. I made a quick call to the paper to make sure we killed it and when I used the photo in our daily multimedia update I had to crop it into a tiny strip to remove the many recurrences of the name.)
Then all the rules went out the window…
On the night before closing arguments, her representatives released a photo of her to a TV station and it was broadcast.
The release of the photo caused heated debate as media outlets wrestled with the ethics of publishing the image in a fiercely competitive business.
At the Tribune, we knew that publishing the photo would only come after some long discussion. But whether we were going to use it or not, we immediately moved to acquire the photograph. Thanks to connections made over years of covering this story, we had it within minutes.
The debate about publishing the photo, as I saw it:
Pro – The photo was released by the victim. It’s up to her to drop the veil of anonymity.
Con – The timing of the release, on the eve of jury deliberations, seemed…well…unsavory.
Pro – The jury had been instructed from day one to avoid all media reports on the case, so they wouldn’t see the photo.
Con – But what if they did?
Pro – Wait, wasn’t the photo shown in court as part of the evidence?
Con – Actually, this particular photo was not shown to the jury. It was not part of the evidence, so you have to ask why it wasn’t. And isn’t the victim pursuing a civil suit against Warren Jeffs as well? Releasing this photo of the victim is manipulating the situation. We shouldn’t be part of their game.
Pro – Then we should publish the photograph with an article listing those concerns and allowing someone to comment on the problems with the release.
Con – How many readers will actually read that and think it through?
The decision to publish was never mine to make. We published the photo.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been telling people I could picture the victim coming out in front of the cameras once the case was over. She’s already twice recounted, in open court, her story of being pressured into a marriage and raped at the age of 14. Would it be any harder for her to comment if they found Warren Jeffs guilty?
Or, if he was found not guilty, putting herself in the public spotlight would be a good maneuver for sympathy in her upcoming civil case.
After the jury went into deliberation, one of the victim’s attorneys, Greg Hoole came out to the assembled media and made a statement where he used the victim’s full name. I was seeing all the rules crumble in front of me.
Then, he came out and started handing out copies of the photo to anyone who wanted them. He said the photo was taken when the victim was 14-years-old, seven months before her marriage.
We continued to have concerns over the photo, especially when we realized that it hadn’t been presented as evidence in the trial. It was obviously picked specifically to present the image of a young girl. To me, she looked younger in the released photo than she had in the photos taken the night before her wedding, which we picked up the next day. I could be wrong. Why don’t you compare for yourself. The first handout on the left, and the wedding photo at right:
Too bad we can’t take that tape measure in the photo and do a measurement on the girl in each photo.