Can ‘Ebony’ Learn From the Genarlow Wilson Backlash?
In case you’re not familiar with the case, Genarlow Wilson was released from prison in 2007 after spending more than two years behind bars for a teen s*x conviction. The Georgia Supreme Court ordered that he be released, ruling 4-3 that his sentence was cruel and unusual punishment. Wilson was convicted in 2005 for having oral s*x with a consenting 15-year-old girl when he was 17.
Bur for one very important reason, readers rebuked Ebony’s glorification of Wilson, and the backlash to the article was furious:
Problem is, even though Genarlow Wilson wasn’t found guilty of rape,video from that night shows he and his friends taking turns having s*x with a 17 year old girl, who appeared intoxicated, as well as Genarlow having oral s*x with a consenting 15 year old. Those acts were not criminal, but Genarlow’s behavior certainly isn’t something that Ebony should’ve celebrated, and so the backlash was swift and fierce, forcing Ebony.com to take the article down.
Ebony.com originally tried to smooth things over with an apology, but that was also taken down as well after strong criticism.
For that reason, writer Tracie Powell of Poynter.com, a school that exists to ensure that communities have access to excellent journalism, spoke with adjunct professor and victim’s right advocate Wendy Murphy, and came away with some advice for Ebony:
“When you write about her being a receiver of past harm and he, as the subject, isn’t even in the sentence, it’s almost like he takes no role, no responsibility morally, legally or otherwise because he’s just not present in that style of writing,” she added. “That’s completely separate from what I saw to be the overarching concern of Ebony referring to him as glorious.”
“Let’s assume for the sake of argument that this was the only bad thing [Wilson’s] ever done in his life and he’s behaved perfectly ever sense. It’s still a part of who he is and part of his story because he was prosecuted in a public forum for committing a serious public offense,” Murphy continued. “And, is it ever appropriate to call a guy with that kind of background glorious? Reasonable people think he’s a nice guy but you’re telling a story about him because of where he’s been and what he’s done … If you call him glorious, maybe you’re not celebrating him for what he’s done but you’re clearly not condemning it.”
Hopefully, everyone has learned from their mistakes, and are prepared to move on.
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