How Explicit Should Journalists Be about Sexual Harassment Allegations?

When sexual harassment occurs, the content is often explosive and x-rated.

But what obligations do journalists have to print the “blow-by-blow” of accusations, in full florid detail?

Slate reporter, Amanda Hess, considered that question in a recent online piece, “At the NYT, ‘All The News That’s Fit To Print’ Does Not Include Sexually Harassing E-Mails.”

Hess was reporting on a New York Times article about a sexual harassment case out of the University of Miami. It involved accusations that UOM Professor Colin McGinn harassed one of his graduate students.

The Times article reported: “the McGinn case is short on undisputed facts, but it does relate the fact that McGinn e-mailed the graduate student riffing on alternate meanings of a crude term for masturbation.”

In reality, McGinn wrote on his blog that he gave himself “a hand job imaging you [the graduate student] giving me hand job.”

Here’s Hess’s sarcastic take on the NYT’s reportage: “McGinn’s “riffing” was actually an infuriating response to evidence that he gets off on fantasies of the student getting him off and tells her so in writing.”

Hess is angry that New York Times sanitized the sexual harassment allegations.

Of course, big papers – especially The New York Times – must walk a fine line. The Times even admits that, due to its strict editorial guidelines, some stories will lose hints of “vividness” because of the self-censorship.

Hess’ retort is that “refusing to print McGinn’s hand job fantasy doesn’t just [eliminate the] ‘vividness’ – it undermines the legitimacy of sexual harassment accusations against the professor.”

If you or someone who care about has been subjected to harassment or other despicable behavior, you may feel strongly, one way or another, about how and when journalists should discuss your story. Some victims may want to be as discrete as possible. The less public “drama,” the better. Others want the harassers to feel the full brunt of public scorn.

But at the end of the day, don’t get distracted from your primary goals.

Whether you want justice, compensation, or better working conditions, reach out for help. Connect with sexual harassment and discrimination attorneys at Joseph & Kirschenbaum for a confidential case consultation. Call us now at (212) 688-5640, or email

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