Ms. Jill Abramson
Dear Ms. Abramson:
I write to raise concerns with the reporting on Florida State University in a front-page article by Walt Bogdanich [A Star Player Accused, and a Flawed Rape Investigation; 4/16]. The article contains a number of significant omissions and mischaracterizations that we believe mislead Times readers. Here are some specific examples:
- We provided the Times a detailed statement for the record that was reduced to a mere two sentences in a 5,600-word article. In several other instances in the story, by contrast, the full statements from various sources are presented in whole, as a collapsible link. This is inherently unfair and served to obscure the context and integrity of the university’s position on sexual assault cases. FSU places a high value on protecting the privacy and security of any student who brings forward a complaint of sexual assault, particularly when the student makes a request of confidentiality. The university also is bound by federal and state laws that strictly prohibit the airing of any details of a particular case, even when we have reason to believe that public statements by others are distorted or false. All of these procedural guidelines are central to your story, yet the Times largely decided to disregard them.
- The university has had in place for many years a victim advocate program that plays a central role in each and every instance of sexual misconduct that is brought to our attention. This, too, was explained in thorough detail to the Times, yet the extensive support and counseling services provided by the victim advocate program were omitted from the story.
- There are many independent sources in the legal and academic communities that have expertise in the restrictions and guidelines that universities must follow when dealing with investigations into sexual assault complaints. But, in an article that alludes to the “rising criticism…across the country” about those jurisdictional questions, no source was presented to discuss the legal dilemmas so central to this issue. The fact is that universities and colleges across the country are struggling to handle all of their responsibilities in serving as investigator, prosecutor and adjudicator for these complex cases.
- The university is cooperating fully with the review being conducted by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, an important fact that was omitted from the story.
- The article reports that the university, “after initially speaking with the Times, recently stopped doing so” and “the university stopped granting interviews.” This gives readers the impression that the university was uncooperative and sought to conceal information. To the contrary, we responded promptly to Mr. Bogdanich and endeavored to provide requested information to the extent it was legally and ethically feasible to do so. This included answering questions during an on-the-record interview with several senior administrators. We also expedited a lengthy Public Records Act request from the Times that included in-depth material, data, timelines and other particulars that took place during a period of more than a decade. When Mr. Bogdanich followed up with additional queries, we explained that, due to the legal sensitivity of the situation and for the sake of accuracy, we preferred to provide responses from that point forward in writing. We did so in a timely manner.
We would appreciate an explanation of how these flaws went overlooked by editors and what the Times intends to do to set the record straight. We also have attached a shorter letter for publication in the newspaper.
Vice President for University Relations
Florida State University
Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor