Arizona Republic's Uneven Victim Protection Program: Sex Suspect's Name Omitted in One Case, but Not in Another

The arrest of men on suspicion of sexual misconduct with their own family members makes for a journalistic conundrum: Name the suspect, and you've all but identified the victim.

Local media was presented with this challenge yesterday -- twice. Court records show that two men -- Jose Alfredo Rivera of Glendale and Bruce Branscom of Mesa -- were arrested on New Year's Day in separate cases after being accused of sexual activity with 12- and 13-year-old girls.

In our blog post yesterday, you'll see that we decided to name the men without stating their relationship to the victims. Not sure if that's the best way, but when a guy is accused of committing a horrific crime like that, we tend to believe that he doesn't deserve anonymity.

The Arizona Republic, on the other hand, decided for inexplicable reasons to name one suspect -- and describe his relationship with the victim -- but not the other.

The story by reporter Angela Piazza about Rivera states clearly that the victim is his stepdaughter. (Thus defeating New Times' attempt to cloak the relationship between the two, as New Times accidentally defeated the Republic's attempt to hide the suspect's identity.)

The Republic states that, "the suspect's name is being withheld by The Arizona Republic to protect the victim's identity."

But now the truth is out, for better or worse -- as it is in the Branscom case.

No similar statement of ethics by the Republic appears in the newspaper's story about Branscom. That article, by John Genovese, both identifies the suspect and makes it clear how he and the victim know each other.

Both stories were published yesterday, and ran as back-to-back headlines on the azcentral.com Web site for a time.

What's the "right" way to tell a story like this to the public?

Your guess is as good as ours.

The news media has no fixed standard for these things. For instance, Channel 3 News (KTVK-TV) ran its Branscom story under the headline, "Mesa man accused of sexually abusing fiancee's daughter."

Channel 5 News (KPHO-TV), meanwhile, took a tack similar to that of New Times in its Rivera story, naming the suspect but not describing his relationship with the victim.

Unfortunately, we're pretty sure this sort of ethical dilemma will come up again.

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