Right to remain anonymous?

Kobe Bryant versus somebody

What's wrong with this picture?

This summer has been an absolute bonanza for the media. Cable TV reporters are practically delirious over the seemingly endless supply of stories that capture the imagination and send ratings and circulations soaring: Iraq, Laci Peterson, Brian Denehy, and now Kobe Bryant.

It is the cause célèbre of Kobe Bryant that has piqued my interest. The major news organizations have steadfastly referred to the young woman in the case as the "alleged victim," refraining from giving her name.

The argument for not naming "the alleged victim's" name goes something like this: Rape is a terrible crime, a heinous crime (true) and carries a stigma from which the victim should be protected.

As every reporter in Eagle, Colorado, is quick to tell us, "Everybody knows who she is." Her friends know — they're all stepping forward to be interviewed! Her family knows. The community knows. Who else matters? What difference does it make if Paul in Palm Springs knows her name? Absolutely none.

The same media who so circumspectly refer to her as "the alleged victim" show no scruples at all about broadcasting every salacious and suggestive detail and rumor they can lay hands on: She overdosed on sleeping pills. She was hospitalized for mental problems. This is not stigmatizing? Gimme a break!

What does withholding the name protect "the alleged victim" from? Notoriety in her community? Hardly. Other potential rapists in search of a victim? That's a stretch. From having to hear all those rumors and the stories? She knows who they're talking about. From the accused's lawyers finding out who she is and digging up dirt to impeach her credibility? No way, our system of justice requires that a defendent be able to confront his accusers (unless, of course, Attorney General Ashcroft is in charge).

No, I think the practice of withholding the name of the accuser really serves the media. It adds to the sense of mystery and drama, making the story more compelling. To simply say, "Kobe Bryant's accuser is Jane Doe, a 19-year old woman from Eagle, Colorado," deprives the media of a lot of hype and eliminates their monopoly on information: "I know, but I'm not gonna tell!" It gives them a patina of decency to cover the sleaze they are purveying.

Even more, I think the practice comes from an unspoken assumption that the charges are true, that the accuser is, in fact, a victim, who must be pitied and protected. This may be well-intentioned, but it is certainly misguided. If "the alleged victim" has, indeed, been raped, the damage is already done. It's time to give up the notion of the victim as stigmatized. Think about it — it is the rapist who ought to carry the stigma, not the victim! Unless, of course, you believe that rape is really the victim's fault, that she "asked for it" and ought to be ashamed of herself.

Conversely, it assumes the accused is guilty. Thus the media show no compunction about sullying the accused's reputation. This is counter to the espoused principle of American jurisprudence that a person is innocent until proven guilty. In the case of rape, it is "innocent until accused." "Presumed innocent" is just lip-service. This is wrong.

What should be done? Either withhold the names of both accuser and accused or publish them both. This is a no-brainer. It's a matter of common sense. It's a matter of basic fairness.