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Naming Rights

Mark Andresen

When University of Colorado president Elizabeth "Betsy" Hoffman put CU head football coach Gary Barnett on paid administrative leave on February 18, she criticized him for making insensitive remarks about once-and-future kicker Katie Hnida -- and there's no doubt he'd done just that. Barnett's statement the previous day that, from a skills perspective, Hnida was not only "a girl, she was terrible" hardly qualified as chivalrous, given that she'd just opened up to Sports Illustrated scribe and CU grad Rick Reilly about sexual harassment and rape at the hands of Boulder gridiron grunts.

Yet Hoffman and CU have hardly specialized in compassion when it comes to Lisa Simpson, one of three women suing the university for a December 2001 recruiting party at which Simpson says she was raped. Late in 2002, Simpson's attorneys with the Boulder firm of Hutchinson, Black & Cook filed a civil complaint in state court without using their client's name. Shortly thereafter, CU's lawyers moved the matter to federal court and immediately petitioned to lift Simpson's cloak of anonymity -- an obvious intimidation tactic. Only after months of wrangling did Simpson make her name public, declaring in a May 2003 statement published in the Boulder Daily Camera, "I now understand that having been raped is not something to be ashamed of."

But the Camera didn't wait for this announcement to use Simpson's name. It first saw print on December 11, 2002, due to the paper's long-held policy of publishing the names of individuals involved in civil suits. The following May, writing about Colleen Conant, the paper's editor at the time, Camera columnist Clint Talbott said, "I don't believe Conant made this decision lightly. I do believe she was wrong."

Simpson agreed. Through her spokeswoman, Lisa Simon, she declined an interview request from Westword, but in January testimony before the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of bills designed to afford sexual-assault victims greater privacy protection, she criticized the Camera by name. The only thing that made press coverage of the 2001 party tolerable was knowing "that no one other than the people close to me actually knew it was me," she said. "And then one day I woke up and I received a call from my attorney saying that the Boulder Daily Camera printed my name." Her reaction? "It was like being raped all over again. They did not ask me if they could share my identity with the world. They did not think that it was wrong to take away my anonymity without my permission. They gave me no choice; I had no chance to say no. They took something away from me that I was not ready to give."

These remarks -- which the Camera, to its credit, partially excerpted in a January 29 article -- demonstrate how difficult it is to figure out the rules of the name game. Consider the variety of approaches taken to reports about one of the other women suing CU. Her attorney, Peggy Jessel, declined to comment for this column, but she did ask that yours truly refrain from naming her client -- a request that I've granted. The Camera, the Colorado Daily, the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post all received identical entreaties from Jessel earlier this month, and the Greeley Tribune heard a comparable plea from Simpson's representatives. The papers' reactions were as varied as the accusations against CU.

As the multitude of media responses indicates, there's little consensus on how to handle the anonymity issue. "I think newspapers are trying to do the right thing," says Bronson Hilliard, the Daily's managing editor. In this case, however, they defined "the right thing" in different ways.

The discussion about names has become more urgent since a sexual-assault allegation against basketballer Kobe Bryant surfaced last year. The Eagle County woman who says Bryant raped her hasn't been identified in the mainstream media, but syndicated radio host Tom Leykis named her on his program, asserting that it was unfair for Bryant to be held up to public scrutiny when the woman was shielded.

Leykis's motivations weren't lofty; he's a simple-minded Kobe booster. Still, his philosophy dovetails with that of Geneva Overholser, onetime editor of the Des Moines Register, who's become journalism's leading advocate for identifying crime victims. In a column for the Poynter Institute titled "Name the Accuser and the Accused," Overholser lays out her position. She believes "naming names is an essential part of the commitment to accuracy, credibility and fairness.... Openness serves society as a whole. It serves enlightenment and understanding and progress. And it serves the criminal justice system."

Overholser acknowledges that "this practice frequently brings pain to individuals; truth-telling does have its victims." The accuracy of this admission has been borne out by coverage of the CU recruiting scandal. One can only imagine how Simpson would have felt had she been listening to talk-show host Peter Boyles's show earlier this month, when he discussed a deposition claiming that during the 2001 party, she had the penises of two men in her mouth simultaneously. Hnida, a local media darling in the late '90s due to her status as field-goal kicker and homecoming queen at Chatfield High School, has also come in for a ton of abuse. CU apologists such as KOA's Dave Logan and The Fan's Lou From Littleton have regularly followed de rigueur comments about rape being bad with steady support for coach Barnett and ignorant insinuations about the kicker's determination not to press charges.  

Hnida's accusations riled up these yakkers largely because her very public admission carried so much power. Had she not put her name and face forward, Barnett would probably still be on the job instead of defending himself during a Larry King Live segment on February 19. Still, the price she's paying helps explain why many women who've been sexually assaulted prefer to keep their identity to themselves -- and why others who initially assent to the use of their name reconsider as divulgence day nears.

One such example concerns Westword reporter Julie Jargon's scoop about malfeasance at the Air Force Academy ("The War Within," January 30, 2003). Justine Parks, a central player in the saga, initially gave Jargon permission to use her name. Shortly before publication, though, Parks said she didn't want any part of her story in print, including her name. Jargon ultimately removed a sizable portion of the Parks material but used the name. Parks subsequently appeared as "Marie" in Channel 7's award-winning series of AFA reports. She was "Marie" again when she was interviewed on ABC's 20/20, but in the February edition of 5280, she switched her handle to "Jacqueline Woods." This confusing moniker-go-round puts Overholser's concern about "accuracy, credibility and fairness" into stark relief.

Monique Gillaspie, the third woman suing CU in connection with the 2001 party, hasn't made the media come up with alternative ways to refer to her. David Feola, her lawyer, says Gillaspie knew from the outset that she would use her name; he otherwise declines to answer questions, explaining that "we're not really communicating with the press much at this stage."

That leaves Peggy Jessel's client, whose feelings about media exposure have gone through several permutations. The Camera named the woman immediately -- no surprise, given that it had repeatedly done the same with Simpson despite significant pressure from community activists. Janine D'anniballe, executive director of a Boulder organization called Moving to End Sexual Assault, says she personally petitioned Conant to reconsider publishing Simpson's name, to no avail. MESA and the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault subsequently sent Conant a letter requesting a meeting. Months later, D'anniballe says, she received the Camera's reply, which cursorily restated its policy.

Camera editor Sue Deans wasn't on the job when Simpson's name was first printed and the exchange with D'anniballe took place; she became the paper's leader last September. Nonetheless, she sees no reason to change the Camera policy about naming participants in civil suits. "There were no criminal sexual-assault charges filed in this case," she says. "So here's someone suing the university, which makes it a little different issue."

Kevin Kaufman, a nine-year Camera veteran now serving as city editor, makes the same distinction and says Simpson shouldn't have been blindsided when the paper printed her name. "Her attorneys first filed an intent to sue, and we didn't name her then, because it didn't mean she'd absolutely sue," he says. "But we had conversations with her attorneys and told them that if and when she did file, we would use the name." When questioned about their reaction, he concedes that "Miss Simpson's attorneys were not happy with us."

Neither was Jessel when Kaufman turned down her pleas in early February to stop identifying her client. Granted, her timing wasn't good. On February 5, the Rocky had published "Jane Doe Reveals Real Name," an article by Lynn Bartels that was done with Jessel's cooperation. "It was kind of odd," Kaufman says of Jessel's request. "Her client had been presented very publicly in the Rocky, which hadn't been naming her, and then, within a few days, she changes her mind."

Jessel found a more receptive audience at the Post. In his February 6 piece, Jim Hughes said that Jessel "regrets allowing the woman's name to be used this week in the Rocky Mountain News." The section concluded with this line: "The Post's policy is not to print the names of alleged rape victims without their permission."

Post editor Greg Moore emphasizes that the tenet isn't affected by the actions of other publications: "Once we've made an ethical, principled decision, we try not to be influenced by whether or not other people run that name."  

At first, it seemed that the Rocky might simply shrug off castigation from its competitor; the name of Jessel's client was published again on February 7. Three days later, though, the Rocky backed off. A story headlined "News won't use 2nd Woman's Name" reported that Jessel had "requested her client's name not be used anymore. Jessel said she erred when she gave permission to use it. 'Her grandmother reads the paper,' Jessel said. 'This is hard on her.'" The capper mirrored the final line in the Hughes offering: "The News does not print the names of women who say they are sexual assault victims without their permission."

Like the Rocky, the Camera is a Scripps Howard paper, but Kaufman admits he was "confused at their change of heart as a reader and as a journalist. If they're doing a story where they're naming two of the three women, but they've previously identified the third, that makes it kind of messy to understand who's doing what."

John Temple, the Rocky's editor/publisher/president, doesn't see it that way. He's something of an anti-Overholser, arguing that papers can be too willing to print names unnecessarily. To that end, he stripped the name of a woman who denied unsubstantiated reports that she'd had an affair with presidential candidate John Kerry from a February 17 Associated Press article that ran nationwide. To explain the name's absence, Temple had a line inserted that read, "The Rocky Mountain News is not identifying the woman because no basis has been shown for the allegations" -- an extremely broad rationale.

No wonder Temple didn't hesitate to stop using the name of Jessel's client. "It was a very brief period where her name was public," he says. "And these women are not public figures in the traditional sense. This isn't a Bill Owens or a Betsy Hoffman, who are familiar with the glare of publicity. I saw no harm in erring on the side of giving her back her anonymity."

But at this point, isn't that like trying to give someone back her virginity? Indeed, the name of Jessel's client can still be found on the Rocky's website, not to mention the pages of the Camera and the Colorado Daily.

Managing editor Hilliard says Daily reporter Adam Ewing got Jessel's consent to use her client's name, which was published in about six articles before the attorney left a voice-mail message asking to rescind the deal in the wake of the Rocky report. Hilliard responded with a voice-mail of his own: "I said, 'I understand that there's stigma and public scrutiny for these women, and it's regrettable. However, you've given me your agreement, and we've received no objection from you or your client until this moment -- and I don't feel that I can afford to give our readers the impression that we'd somehow obtained that permission in an unprofessional or inconsistent way.'" He offered to arrange an interview with Jessel's client that would allow her to "speak directly to her peer group" -- University of Colorado students who read the Daily in large numbers. Although Simpson took the Daily up on a similar proposal last May, Hilliard says he has yet to hear back from Jessel.

Despite its appearing in the Daily, Simpson didn't want her name in the Greeley Tribune, because her family lives in the paper's circulation zone. This wasn't a problem for a while, says managing editor Randy Bangert; the Tribune didn't see enough of a local hook to dispatch one of its staffers to Boulder. As the story expanded, though, the Tribune ran an AP piece that mentioned Simpson, and "her family called us," Bangert remembers, "and said, 'We're really upset that you've identified our daughter.' That was the first we knew she was a local girl." The Simpsons maintained that many of Lisa's family members and friends in northern Colorado had no idea that she was at the center of the CU controversy, and they wanted it to remain that way. As further enticement for the paper to drop her name, Bangert says, "they indicated that in the future, it was very possible their daughter might be willing to do an interview with us -- so we talked, and after some internal debate, we decided that we would follow the family's wishes and not identify her in our coverage."

The Tribune kept its part of the bargain as long as it could, but eventually something had to give. "The whole thing got bigger and bigger, and her name was out there more and more," Bangert says. "What crossed the line for us was when she was on TV testifying in the legislature. That's when it reached the point of ridiculousness. Everybody else in the state had her name on TV, and if her friends and family hadn't known before, they certainly did then. So we called the family and said, 'We're looking foolish by not identifying her. It's not much of a secret anymore.'"  

The Simpson clan reluctantly agreed and released the Tribune from its pledge. After all, no one could mistake the paper's sensitivity -- not even at CU.


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