Why we're applying our regular conversation guidelines to Howard Weinblatt coverage
Every now and then, there’s a conversation people are aching to have on our site, but what they want to talk about violates our conversation guidelines.
So do we let them say whatever they want? Or do we enforce our guidelines?
In this case, we’re sticking with our guidelines. But we feel we owe it to our readers to explain why.
Let me start by acknowledging that the criminal case against Dr. Howard Weinblatt is an unusual one, with a very unique set of circumstances. It has raised many questions and concerns — most of which our readers are welcome to comment on.
People are free to criticize our coverage, or to question the actions of the police or prosecutor. People certainly are welcome to voice their support for Weinblatt, and testify to his character and his distinguished record as a pediatrician. There are equally legitimate questions about someone being charged with a crime for behavior that occurred inside his own home, and many comments have been posted to that effect. That’s all fair game.
However, many comments also have been posted that seek to attack or blame the family of the alleged victim, and we are not allowing that; those comments have been removed. On one previous story, we had to close commenting because of this issue.
For any story involving a crime or tragic death, we have a clear set of commenting guidelines and we work hard to enforce them consistently. Among other things, our guidelines ask commenters not to blame the victim, and not to suggest that the accident or alleged crime could have been avoided if the victim had behaved differently.
These guidelines have been tested over time on a broad range of stories. They are fair and reasonable. Most readers support these concepts, and understand why we apply them.
However, the circumstances of the Weinblatt case have resulted in a level of push-back from readers that we don’t usually get. Quite a few of our readers share a strong perception that the parents who reported this incident to police could or should have handled the situation differently, and they feel compelled to make that point.
We understand how strong the desire is to comment on this aspect of the story, and we’ve had more than one internal discussion about whether we are applying our guidelines correctly, and whether we should allow such a discussion, based on the particular circumstances of this case.
Ultimately, we’ve concluded that we need to stand by our guidelines. They are based on the principle that when someone is charged with a crime, the victims are not the ones who should be put on trial in the court of public opinion. We’re also concerned about how little is actually known about what happened, and what the family actually did or didn’t do to address it. Until more details come out, we don’t think it’s fair to allow commenters to criticize or attack the family based on assumptions about what might have happened, when we don’t allow such attacks in any other circumstance.
We realize that some readers are chaffing mightily against this restriction, but we believe our guidelines are fair and appropriate, and we haven’t found a reason to set them aside for this story. Thanks for the opportunity to explain our guidelines and the thinking behind them
To read our conversation guidelines, click here.