Sunday, October 7, 2012

Is A Person's Criminal Past Newsworthy When They Are The Apparent Victim?

By now you have probably seen the above footage of a woman being punched in the face by a Philadelphia police officer during the after party of the Puerto Rican Day parade.

The woman was charged with disorderly conduct though charges were later dropped. The police officer is on 30-day suspension and the police chief announced that the officer will be fired.

A few days after the incident, the Philly Post - the online component of Philadelphia magazine, reported that the woman punched in the face had a criminal record. She was busted for a DUI and related charges, including falsely identifying herself to police. She was sentenced to 82 days in jail for a theft conviction. And she was busted on a drug charge.

Is the woman's criminal history relevant to the story? Should it be published information?

Or did the Philly Post reporter overstep the boundaries of what a journalist is supposed to report?

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Her record is an absolutely unnecessary part of the report. What would be the point of including it? To prove that she has done things to warrant her arrest in the past? To show that she deserved what happened to her because she is a criminal and was probably doing something wrong? Because even if she was doing something wrong or being too rowdy, I'm pretty sure anyone watching that video could see that there was absolutely no good reason for an officer who obviously didn't need to use such excessive force, to punch that woman in the face. Anyone who tries to logically explain that is a total idiot. All her criminal record does in the story is detract from the view of her as a victim, which is irresponsible to do. The officer needs to be prosecuted fairly and justice needs to be served, which is less likely to happen if people don't see her victimhood.

Geo said...

All opinions are welcome here but please leave your name with any comments.

- George
(the teacher who believes in transparent discourse)

JustinWagner said...

The fact that the Philly Post decided to publish that information concerning the woman above just goes to show that they only care about raw facts. Okay, so who cares if this woman has had run ins with the law before this incident, the cop that punched her in the face didn't know that. What was the real reason the Philly Post decided to put that information out there then? Were they trying to dig dirt up, dirt that wasn't even relevant to this case, just to balance out the feelings towards the cop and the victim. Who were they even trying to portray as the villain here. Cause to me, I see this as another case of a power hungry police officer abusing their authority. This has been happening to much recently, and has been going on around the streets surrounding temple for years. My friends house has been invaded by the police at least three times without a permit, using excessive force on the students. In multiple cases I've seen these pigs actually tackle freshman to the ground when they didn't even do anything to get that reaction. The fucked up thing is that when it happened, at least 30 students circled around the aggressive cop. Now I don't know if I'm the only one that believes in strength in numbers, but if I knew for a FACT that the kid didn't do anything wrong, I'd do my best to get everyone to dog pile that cop. The problem is though is that the media and everything else has turned all of my fellow students into zombies and no one is willing to stand up to the law. George Carlin was right, everyone has a cellphone that makes pancakes now so no one is willing to question anything. POWER DOES WHAT IT WANT, and that's sad. Stand up Philly, I know you've done it before.
GO EAGLES!

Rachel Manning said...

I really don't believe the information of the criminal back round has anything to do with the story. I agree with Justin, they just wanted to level the playing field between the woman and the cop. I disagree with the use of this information completely. Maybe if she had gotten a D.U.I on her way to the parade and THEN gotten punched by a cop it would be somewhat relevant. Otherwise it is not. I think police brutality is pretty scary because they're the ones who are supposed to protect us. So if they're the ones causing the violence, who is really going to protect us? I find the video to b extremely disturbing.

Aja Espinsoa said...

There was absolutely not relevance to story that the reporter needed to include this woman's past history. Whether or not she has a criminal record or not makes no difference to the fact that she was violated by this police officer. Is it now going to be okay to beat other people with criminal charges? It just seems that the reporter was looking to incite more fire into the story.

Ryan Acuna said...

I really don't believe that having a criminal record should be relevant. Just because the woman was arrested with a DUI and drug charges in the past does not mean that should be held against her for a different, completely unrelated crime. The public should see this conflict for what is really is; an attempt by the media to distract people from an officer's poor decision. Last time I checked a thrown water bottle did not equal a punch in the face.

Eric Newby said...

At first glance, I agreed with the above comments where the criminal record shouldn't be relevant. But I actually think that the Philly Post is ok with publishing the information. It provides background info on the woman, which could be important to know. If a former drug dealer is mistakenly arrested, would they publish his past illegal actions? Yes.

I don't think that it takes away from the vicious attack on her. The punch was very unnecessary, and that is obvious from the video and story. Nothing is detracting from that message.

Catherine Palmer said...

no, I do not think that the woman having a criminal backround has anything to do with her being a victim in this story. She didn't do anything, she was just walking by when he clocked her in the face. Just because she has a past doesn't mean that what happened is okay. I don't think her past has anything to do with what happened and I don't think that it should of been written about. Her past doesnt effect what happened and doesn't make the police officer look any less than a scumbag.

Matthew Albasi said...

Absolutely relevant.

News does not happen in a vacuum. The people involved in any story have a background that colors the way they act.

I have a theoretical for you all: If the Post reported that this woman volunteered at the local soup kitchen and adopted puppy dogs would you be lambasting the article?

I don't think so. This isn't different.

Yung-Hsin Tsou said...

I think the Post's report on the woman's criminal record is irrelevant to the story. Even if she has committed some crime, it can't justify the police's conduct. The Post's report kind of instills the thought into readers that the woman deserved some punishment--such as a punch?

Andrew Sifari said...

I think that the inclusion of the woman's criminal record is not relevant to the story. The only thing that is accomplished by that is that now, with that knowledge, people might feel equally bad about the officer (who was wrong) and the woman (who must clearly not deserve pity due to her criminal record), so it's effectively a wash. I think the reporter is within his rights to report that sort of information, but in this case, the only use for it would be to create conflicting feelings in readers who would have stuck up for this woman. Certainly, if the crimes were so sensitive to the victim, she would not have put herself in a position to have this problem; she could have just not committed a crime if she wanted to stay off the public radar.

Peter Orbach said...

This woman's criminal history is a separate story. So yes I do believe it is relevant because it was published as the subject of a different story after the initial reporting of the punching incident. HOWEVER, if this were included in a feature piece on the event of the beating itself, I think that it would be completely irrelevant and easily construed as justifying an unjust act.

Susan Dong said...

I agree with most of the other comments that the criminal record of the woman should not be relevant. I agree with Eric Newby's comment saying that the Philly Post is okay with publishing the information on the woman's background.

People want to know about the woman and her background. Who is this woman that got punched in the face? It just so happens that she has a criminal record. Also, I don't think a DUI and theft charges makes readers say, "yea, she deserved to be punched in the face." Well, at least it does not make me say that. Plus if you look at the video the cop looks like he was angry and just wanted to punch someone who was around... she was walking away from him not in his face or anything.

Also, on the video at 0:11-0:13 it really looks like the cop closest to us who is walking from the left to the right side of the screen slightly shakes his head. In dismay? I don't know. Just saying.

Joe Coufal said...

I believe that the journalist was unfair to the victim of this police brutality.
As long as the criminal record of the woman had been balanced out with normal biographical information, this coverage would have been okay with me.
For example, saying a criminal was punched by a cop is unfair. Saying that a 45 year-old mother that works at Walgreens with a criminal record was the victim is more fair in my opinion.

Eric O'Hara said...

There's nothing wrong with her police record being published. When a story hangs around for a few days, we tend to want to know more about the people involved. We've acknowledged these are PUBLIC records, so if a journalist makes that part of their story (or in this case , his WHOLE story), it's his/her right to do so. Now, was there an agenda behind this article? A cynic like me would say yeah, it's fairly obvious; but at that point it becomes a matter of the general public being smart enough to pick up on that.

[Off the main journalism topic: It's also fairly obvious in that video (to me at least) she's antagonizing the cops in some way before the officer clocks her. Should he have? Probably not a great idea on his part, but the easiest way to avoid that is to not antagonize the police. Again, it doesn't make what he did right, because it's not; but at the same time, I don't see any angels on either side of this one. Stay classy Philly.]

Michael Zahn said...

No way is that piece of information relevant. Extrapolating information from that long ago has no bearing on this case. Is it coincidental? Sure. Is it relevant, newsworthy, important? No. This information is only attempting to sway society's perception of what occurred. It doesn't justify the actions of the officer in the slightest.

Meredith Thomas said...

There is nothing wrong with her previous police records being published on the Philly Post, since the records are already available to the public through online sources. Even though this is so, releasing these records has absolutely no relevance to what occurred at the Puerto Rican Day parade. The police officer was wrong in what he did, but the victim should not be to blame. Just because she got in trouble with the police a few years ago, it automatically makes it okay for the police officer to punch her in the face? I feel as though as a society, sometimes we try to turn situations around and blame the victim. Especially since this was a police officer who punched her, someone who is to be trusted in the public view, people try to make it seem as though it was not his wrong doing, but instead, the woman's since some writer discovered that she did have previous incidents with the police.

Melena Murphy said...

The fact that she has a criminal record should have nothing to do with the story. The police officer was in the wrong in this situation for punching her and the fact that she has a criminal record does not make him any less wrong.

Joe Dolinsky said...

I think it helps pain a clearer portrait of who this woman is. I know when I first heard about this I said to myself "Well, what did she do to get herself punched?" And obviously having a record like she does indicates that she's no stranger to the law. Drugs, theft, false identification, DUI. It's hard to feel like that kind of person is a victim. A journalist reports facts and her record is fact.

Danielle Alvarez said...

The woman's criminal history does not reflect the incident. The woman was still struck by a cop. I personally do not think it contributes anything to the story, if anything makes the journalist look like an idiot.

Chelsea Elizabeth said...

Her having a criminal history has no relevance to this situation. It isn't like the cop knew that she had one so that's why he punched her in the face (although if he did know there would still be no reason for that). It has no connection to this current issue, it's the public trying to make the cop look better than he is.

-Chelsea Finn

Moumita Ghosh said...

I don't think that the woman's criminal history should have been published, because that does not make it okay for the police officer to punch the woman. The woman's criminal history was only posted to make the police officer look good, to make it seem that the police officer was not all that bad for punching the woman, just because she had a criminal history!
I do not think that the woman's criminal history had any relevance with this event of the police officer punching her. Police officers should be protecting us and protecting our society, but instead they use a lot of violence and brutality!

Zahara Hill said...

Journalists should be allowed to report on whatever they want because otherwise there'd be a considerable amount of censorship taking place. While the fact that the woman has a criminal background is going to pique interest, the journalist likely had a negative intent when he did so. He likely thinks her criminal record makes her more worthy of being attacked by the cop and wants others to think that as well. While his writing may have been objective, his publishing of that information is conveying an nonverbal bias.

Janki said...

I agree with Matthew Albasi up there.

If this woman's background information was a good one, such as she was a kindergarten school teacher and donated to the breast cancer association every year or something then the article wouldn't have as much controversy.


However, I also do believe that having an entirely other article is unnecessary. That shows that this learned information is crucial to this "developing story" when in fact it has no relevance. -- If it were to have been included, it should have been in the first article and in a manner like Joe Caufal mentioned in his comment.

Coleen O'Hara said...

I do not think that the woman's criminal record is relevant at all. The story the journalists are writing is the story of a woman being punched by a police officer. That is the main focus of the story, not that the woman had a DUI. Regardless of the woman's past and whether or not she has criminal behavior, she did not deserved to be punched. The story is newsworthy because a police officer punched a woman. If the woman had just been arrested at the parade and not punched, it is very likely that she would have never made the news.

JustinWagner said...

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/dncrime/Video-shows-cop-scuffle-at-South-Street-Oktoberfest.html

Anonymous said...

I should say not!!! It does not matter what this woman have done in her lifetime. It is oblivious that she has paid her debt to society because she was roaming the streets a free woman. If a former prostitute is forcefully raped can she claim it. What a person has done in their past should not reflex who they are now, this is why we call it the past. If we are always looking back, we cannot see what is in front of us, and we will always be tripping and falling, so we must always look forward and leave the past where it should be, in the past, especially if we want to move ahead.
The reporter wanted to give the readers a decadent background on this female. It appears he was being bias; he wanted this officer to be blameless for striking this woman. I don’t think the reporter over stepped his boundaries, I just think he was not doing a good job on reporting on the incident. The incident of her being so violently hit was the essence of the story, not her background.
Sakina B.

Megan Hufnagel said...

To include a person's past charges is not newsworthy criteria and should not matter when involved in a new case. Is it not the job of the journalist to present newsworthiness criteria as well as relevance to the news at hand. As journalist we should present what is relevant and important at the time and with this case it just do not seem fit to bring up past charges.

Robert Arciero said...

The woman's criminal background has absolutely nothing to do with the situation. It is not like the police officer saw her in the crowd, and was like oh yeah she has a criminal record and punched her in the face. With the news reporting her background and her criminal record has nothing to do with the situation and almost gets away from the actual incident of the police officer punching the woman in the face.