A New York Times reporter who came under fire from the paper’s executive editor for his “cringe-making” and “ham-handed” reporting on a young rape victim in Texas returned to the story for Tuesday's front page: “3-Month Nightmare Emerges in Rape Inquiry.”
Keller criticized Houston Bureau Chief James McKinley’s March 9 story in his March 27 column for the Times Sunday magazine, giving it special place among various Times embarrassments “Between Ivana’s brassieres and W.M.D.’s are cringe-making one-offs like the ham-handed article that led some readers to think we were blaming the 11-year-old victim of a monstrous gang rape in Texas (the only way to make amends was to order up a whole new story)....”
McKinley’s initial story generated some reader outrage for seemingly being more concerned over the future of the young men being accused then of the rape victim herself, and with insensitive comments like this: “Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands – known as the Quarters - said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.” Well, one cheer for editorial transparency on the part of Keller.
That “whole new story” indeed landed on Tuesday’s front page, cowritten by the same reporter, James McKinley, with Erica Goode. The followup avoided those previous mistakes of emphasis (and did not mention the complaints from readers and Keller).
A year ago, the 11-year-old girl who the police say was the victim of repeated gang rapes in this East Texas town was an outgoing honor roll student, brimming with enthusiasm, who went on hikes and planted trees with a youth group here.
“She has always been a really bubbly child,” said Brenda Myers, director of the Community and Children’s Impact Center, who worked with her. “She always had a smile on her face.”
But in October, just after starting sixth grade, the girl became withdrawn, Ms. Myers said, and in November, she stopped attending the center’s meetings.
Court documents and dozens of interviews over several weeks with the girl’s family, her friends and neighbors, as well as those who know the defendants, provide a more complete picture of what occurred as well as a deeper portrait of the victim. What begins to emerge is the nightmarish ordeal of a young girl over two and a half months involving an eclectic group of young men, some with criminal records, who shared a powerful neighborhood bond.