Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Jeremy Lipschultz
In the past few years, sexual abuse has become the most talked about form of child abuse, according to the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Chicago. While several abuse charges made by children often prove true, across the United States a growing number of such accusations against teachers, clergymen and daycare workers have been found to be false. For example, former Manhattan Beach, Calif. nursery school teacher Raymond Buckey was the focus of one of the largest, longest and costliest criminal cases in U.S. history. Buckey was accused of allegedly molesting students at Manhattan Beach's McMartin pre-school. After seven years and two trials, all charges against Buckey were dropped. Several issues are at play when a teacher is accused of sexual abuse. First, there are the issues of the safety of the children and the rights of the accused teacher. Second, there is the issue of free press versus fair trial. Third, there is the issue of privacy versus a reporter's access to information. The fourth issue, which is the focus of this thesis, is that newspaper editors face an ethical question: do they print the name of the teacher in a story before the teacher has been officially charged with some level of sexual misconduct? Or do they wait until after the teacher has been officially charged? In the cases where teachers are accused of sexual abuse and they are named in a newspaper story before they are officially charged, it seems like these teachers are guilty until proven innocent. These teachers suffer a taint that they possibly abused a student. The purpose of this thesis is twofold: 1) discover how newspaper editors determine whether or not to name a teacher accused of sexual abuse who is not charged with some level of sexual misconduct. 2) determine what is available to newspaper editors and reporters from law enforcement officers and district attorneys regarding a suspect's name and investigation information. A qualitative case study covering three states was used as a research methodology to determine how newspaper editors, police officers and district attorneys in the three states handle the situation of a teacher accused of, but not charged with, sexual abuse. Officials in the case study were located in California, Nebraska and Virginia to represent the West Coast, Midwest and East coast. Newspaper editors contacted said they handled the situation on a case-by-case basis. There were differences in how the police handled the situation. The district attorneys were the only officials who handled the situation in a consistent, ethical manner. This thesis argues that in the case of a person accused of, but not charged with, sexual misconduct there should be a voluntary ethical guideline on the release of information regarding this issue. The guideline proposed would need to be endorsed by national associations representing the news media, police and lawyers. This voluntary ethical guideline would balance the preservation of the crime suspect's reputation with freedom of the press.
Lukas, Joan L., "School Teachers, False Arrest and Media Coverage of Sex Crimes: A Three-State Ethics Probe." (1993). Student Work. 2994.
A Thesis Presented to the Department of Communication and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 1993 Joan L. Lukas.