How the Media Turned an Alleged Rapist Into an Alleged Murderer (and Back Again)
Original Post:Twice in the span of about a week, a young woman walking near the DART bus stop at Walnut and Audelia in Northeast Dallas was approached by a young black man, forced to a secluded area and raped at gunpoint.
Police announced last week that they had arrested a suspect, a 21-year-old named Marquis White. Shortly after, the Morning News broke the story that White had possible ties to a June 9 murder that occurred in the 8700 block of Park Lane. That tidbit was immediately seized upon and broadcast by other outlets.
But yesterday, police issued a terse, two-sentence statement -- "All line ups have now been shown. He is not a murder suspect." -- after which News et. al reported that police had changed their minds.
"Police now say man charged in Far Northeast Dallas bus-stop rape is not a murder suspect," read the headline on DMN reporter Scott Goldstein's blog post. WFAA reported that White was "no longer a suspect" in the murder.
It seemed strange that, between the time the murder connection was reported on Saturday and Monday, the police did a 180 on White's status as a murder suspect. DPD found it odd, too, since they now say they never even considered him a suspect.
"I know we didn't tell (Goldstein) that," Melinda Gutierrez, a police spokeswoman, told me yesterday.
Then how did this wind up as the News' lead?
A witness told police the 21-year-old man arrested in connection with two rapes and robberies near a far northeast Dallas bus stop also committed a recent murder, according to police documents.
Goldstein appears to have been working from a copy of the arrest affidavit. In it, police give a straightforward narrative of how they came to believe that White was the rapist. According to the affidavit, a man approached officers on patrol at a Northeast Dallas apartment complex and told them he had information about the June 9 murder. The same man who committed the murder, the witness told police, had also told his mother he had raped a white girl.
The allegation about the murder, though it was included in the affidavit, seems to have been quickly dismissed by police after checking into it. But according to police, the accusations of rape checked out.
"In any police investigation, officers get leads and you follow leads to determine (if they have merit)," DPD spokesman Scott Walton said. "Sometimes it's good information, sometimes it's not, but you have to do an investigation."
There's nothing wrong with Goldstein's original piece. He reports, accurately, what a witness told police and carefully avoids calling White a murder suspect. Then, after the story ping-ponged between media outlets, the nuance was ironed out and White was a murder suspect. The difference is academic, perhaps, but there is a real distinction between a random guy on the street saying someone committed a murder and police considering that person a "suspect." And why, when DMN was so careful in phrasing its initial story, was it so careless about the follow-up?
Regardless, White remains charged with
two one heinous crime s. (As Goldstein points out via Twitter, White has so far been charged with one rape). And Goldstein came up with another little nugget, this time by culling social media. After police announced the rapes, Goldstein reports, White posted on his Facebook page:
"SAY MANE IF YOU LIVE IN THE NAWF B ON THE LOOK OUT FOR THAT RAPIST ON WALNUT AND AUDELIA REAL TALK."