Curious twos (pt. 2): Memories, perception and journalism

The second piece I read today really, really got me thinking. My friend tweeted this story today about a woman who was recently accosted via Facebook by a man who had raped her as an adolescent. It’s a very interesting piece, and something that addressed so many social issues at once (social networking, privacy, etc.). I wasn’t quite sure what this story would reveal, but it’s shockingly positive end was something that kind of unsettled me.

Now, you can listen to the piece, but basically, after talking to this man, the woman essentially forgave him for everything. I’m in no position to cast any judgment over her, nor would I think of doing so. But what I thought of after I heard the story was of psychology itself, and how it plays out in journalism. This piece perplexed me because I felt like there was so much more to this story than was told—and maybe if there was more to the story, perhaps it would not be appropriate to report. Perhaps it would. This woman had dealt with a horrific emotional rollercoaster and I’m sure in any case, there would be some intense emotional boundaries, defense mechanisms and security blankets that come hand-in-hand with that. Forgiveness should never be ruled out of a situation, and the fact that this story was able to be positive, I initially thought, was pretty impressive.

But as I thought more about it, I knew that there had to be more under the table than what was presented. I’m not saying there was any shady business, like false reporting or lying, because I doubt there was. But it’s the psychology of the matter that made me question the story. I couldn’t help but think about strange defense mechanisms that people will adopt to cope with things. I couldn’t help but think about Stockholm syndrome, of victimology in general. When journalism approaches a touchy subject like rape, there are bound to be very specific unwritten (and written) rules about the subsequent reporting. When psychology comes into the matter, though, I feel like the standards of reporting are blurred. Is it right to report something that may be factually flawed based on the interviewee’s patched-up memory? Or can journalism opt out of covering something that might be veiled with psychological complexities such as this?

Is there even a psychological question to this story? Are we allowed to ask this?

When the woman spoke of her conversation with the man, it was clear that many details were left out. Journalists are not detectives, but there must be a sense of fact-checking in us when we portray a story, especially one of such a heavy emotional and social weight. Yet, where lies the journalist’s discretion? Because someone remembers something differently than they had before—is this worthy of reporting? Is there a line that lets us, as journalists, distinguish between the words of a story and the psychology behind it? Can a emotionally wavering source be reliable?

Stories can change and memories are subject to change based on a person’s physical, socioeconomic, sociological, mental (etc., etc.) situation. Yet, I began to question the story because although it had a light at the end of the tunnel, the light seemed a little manufactured. Perhaps it was just my personal perception of the story and my disbelief that a reconciliation can come so easily. Yet, I was curious to think whether or not the journalist in this case had the same perception of incredulity. And if they did have an underlying perception like I did, is it right to use this “gut feeling” to make a decision about a story?

This piece left me many questions. Journalism is often a facet of portraying the interaction of people and their surroundings to readers and listeners, but the extent to which we interfere in this psychological underpinning of society is something I find so curious. As humans, as reporters, as women and as men, where is the line drawn?

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