Don’t Say It

Say what, now?

I’m as unhappy about the events playing out in Valley Springs, California as anyone else who’s not directly involved, but for the last couple of days, every story has tripped a mental fuse for me.

In case anyone has missed it, the story in question is that of eight-year-old Leila Fowler, who was stabbed to death in late April. Yesterday, her twelve-year-old brother was arrested. (No links, it’s not hard to find all the coverage anyone could want, and then some.)

What keeps tripping me up is the statement in every story yesterday and today: “His name is not being released since he is a minor.” Just to be clear here, it’s not just this case, it’s every news story reporting on a juvenile accused of a crime.

Yes, I understand the desirability of keeping the names of minors out of the press, especially given the fact that an arrest is far from proof of guilt. For that matter, I hope that all of the various news agencies have updated any earlier stories that gave his name. I’m even in the apparent minority that would be happy to have his name continue to be withheld even if he is tried as an adult.

I’m not suggesting that the news media should give his name. Quite the contrary, in fact.

What I’m getting stuck on is the incessant repetition of that sentence. Is it really necessary to say the same thing every time? It wouldn’t be that hard to find out his name if one were motivated to do so – let’s face it, how many twelve year old brothers is she likely to have had? Repeating this sentence over and over just feels like it’s calling attention to the omission, and daring someone to start digging.

I’ll grant you that it’s not as easy to find someone’s name as it often appears in mystery novels, but that might just make it worse. If someone goes to the effort of doing the research and learning the brother’s name, he’s going to want to do something with it, and the harder he has to work, the more likely he is to want to show off.

Really, if the paper didn’t say “His name is not being released…” would you notice? Would you care? Most of you probably wouldn’t. Those few who would care are going to care regardless of whether the disclaimer is present or not; at best, the presence of the disclaimer serves no function, and at worst it provokes a few people.

Let’s just drop the disclaimer, state the facts, and move on.

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