Boston Globe mistake raises questions about how media cover sex offenders

The Boston Globe wrote a Monday feature about a couple that “found love at Occupy Boston.” The story, which was accompanied by a big photo of the two lovebirds kissing, reads:

“Holding hands outside the food tent before the encampment disbanded, they were the archetype of an Occupy couple – he, a red-headed Mainer with tattoos on his arms; she, a petite upstate New York girl with a heart-shaped face and a boyish haircut, wearing a knit grandmother sweater three sizes too big.”

But here’s what the Globe story didn’t say: the man, 25-year-old Robert Stitham, is a Level 3 sex offender convicted of two counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14. The Boston Herald today pointed out Stitham’s history in a story that takes the Globe to task for the omission.

“Looks like somebody forgot to Google,” is the opening line of the Herald’s story. The article notes how easy it was to find the information about Stitham’s past:

A quick Google search of his name turns up his sex offender notification — complete with his photo — on the website of the police department in Plymouth, where Stitham grew up. A search on the state Sex Offender Registry Board website shows Stitham now lives in a homeless shelter in Boston.

Globe deputy managing editor for local news Jennifer Peter told the paper, “We were unaware of his status and would have opted not to do the story had we known.”

The Globe also added an editor’s note to the online version of its story:

Editor’s note: This story about relationships that began during Occupy Boston featured a man, Robert Stitham, who is a registered sex offender, according to state records. Had his status been discovered during reporting, the story would not have been published

Stitham’s girlfriend is aware of his sex offender status. “Yes, I am perfectly fine with it,” she told the Herald.

The person who didn’t know about Stitham’s criminal past was the Globe reporter, and therefore Globe readers. That’s undeniably a big problem, a glaring omission.

But what if Stitham had disclosed this to the journalist, or if it had come out in the course of reporting the story? Should the Globe have killed the piece, as Peter and the editor’s note both say it would have?

I emailed Peter to ask for more details about why the Globe would have spiked the story.

“It was a feature story, purely discretionary, about romance that blossomed during Occupy Boston,” she wrote. “If we had learned he was a sex offender, that would have changed the nature of the story. We do not have a policy one way or another on featuring sex offenders. We use our best judgment.”

I asked her if the fact that Stitham’s girlfriend knew of his crimes made any difference. Peter said it didn’t. She did say a story “could have” been written if the reporter had known about the man’s sex offender status.

“But I believe we would have looked for another couple or abandoned the story,” she said. “Again, it seems like we would be telling a different story.”

So it seems that what the Globe is saying is that, given Stitham’s history, it wouldn’t have written a love story about this couple. Knowing the criminal history ahead of time would have killed the romantic story, but could have led to another narrative.

Given that the Herald said all it took was a simple Google search to find Stitham’s criminal past, I also asked Peter if the Globe has a policy for checking criminal records of sources.

“There’s no hard and fast rule,” she said. “But in general, we scrub people we’re featuring in a prominent way. In this case, a Google search was done – of the man’s name along with his last known address, in Portland – and it yielded nothing. (Try it). Had the reporter Googled his name by itself, we would have seen the sex offender details. We should have done that.”

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  • Anonymous

    Massachusetts’

    Executive Office of Public Safety has a public search engine with
    information about all Level 3 offenders. It does not include details on
    lower level offenders (even though one link indicates that it has
    information on Level 2s).

    Let’s say the Globe routinely does mini background checks on sources in a
    feature article. The reporter starts by Googling a person’s name. He
    finds the person’s picture on homefacts.com, which does not appear to be
    a state-sanctioned site. If that person is a Level 1 or 2 offender, he
    will find nothing. If that person is a Level 3, he will find a posting
    there. But is that enough? If the Globe is still going to publish the
    story, shouldn’t they make absolutely sure that this is the same person?
    Boston is a big city, and it could be coincidental that they look alike
    (even though I admit that would be unusual).

    I have no idea how often large papers routinely check into a person’s
    criminal history. Maybe that is the job of the fact-checking staff, if
    they haven’t been laid off.

    Tthe Herald’s article/column would have been more productive if it had
    focused more on how and when journalists do background research on
    sources rather than starting with a jab at its competitor. Hopefully the
    Herald will adopt or uphold these background checks of every source
    that appears in its paper. It would be awkward if there was a
    stones-in-a-glass-house moment.

  • Anonymous

    Massachusetts’

    Executive Office of Public Safety has a public search engine with
    information about all Level 3 offenders. It does not include details on
    lower level offenders (even though one link indicates that it has
    information on Level 2s).

    Let’s say the Globe routinely does mini background checks on sources in a
    feature article. The reporter starts by Googling a person’s name. He
    finds the person’s picture on homefacts.com, which does not appear to be
    a state-sanctioned site. If that person is a Level 1 or 2 offender, he
    will find nothing. If that person is a Level 3, he will find a posting
    there. But is that enough? If the Globe is still going to publish the
    story, shouldn’t they make absolutely sure that this is the same person?
    Boston is a big city, and it could be coincidental that they look alike
    (even though I admit that would be unusual).

    I have no idea how often large papers routinely check into a person’s
    criminal history. Maybe that is the job of the fact-checking staff, if
    they haven’t been laid off.

    Tthe Herald’s article/column would have been more productive if it had
    focused more on how and when journalists do background research on
    sources rather than starting with a jab at its competitor. Hopefully the
    Herald will adopt or uphold these background checks of every source
    that appears in its paper. It would be awkward if there was a
    stones-in-a-glass-house moment.

  • Anonymous

    Massachusetts’
    Executive Office of Public Safety has a public search engine with information about all Level 3 offenders. It does not include details on lower level offenders (even though one link indicates that it has information on Level 2s).

    Let’s say the Globe routinely does mini background checks on sources in a feature article. The reporter starts by Googling a person’s name. He finds the person’s picture on homefacts.com, which does not appear to be a state-sanctioned site. If that person is a Level 1 or 2 offender, he will find nothing. If that person is a Level 3, he will find a posting there. But is that enough? If the Globe is still going to publish the story, shouldn’t they make absolutely sure that this is the same person? Boston is a big city, and it could be coincidental that they look alike (even though I admit that would be unusual).I have no idea how often large papers routinely check into a person’s criminal history. Maybe that is the job of the fact-checking staff, if they haven’t been laid off. Tthe Herald’s article/column would have been more productive if it had focused more on how and when journalists do background research on sources rather than starting with a jab at its competitor. Hopefully the Herald will adopt or uphold these background checks of every source that appears in its paper. It would be awkward if there was a stones-in-a-glass-house moment.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rp509855 Rod Paul

    How about some intrepid reporter checks the trial transcript and reports back what it says about his conviction.

    It’s certainly not clear from the reporting so far – and as others have pointed out, the registries have their own set of problems.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Daphne Steinberg writes on Facebook: As
    a reporter who covered crime, the mere fact that the man is a sex
    offender does not seem like a reason not to do the story to begin with
    or to kill it midway through. If the story had shown signs of illegal
    activity — he was having a romance with
    a 17-year-old — that would be a reason to spike it. He did his time
    and as others have said, “What? He’s incapable of having feelings for
    someone?” Shame on the Globe for not doing their homework and finding
    this out about him since it was so easy to find out, but shame on them
    further for being so unforgiving in their thinking.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    The Herald didn’t say; the story only referenced that she was over 14. –Julie

  • http://www.zimbio.com/Bodybuilding/articles/pWs7wa4jGVW/Ageless+Male+Supplements+Review+Ageless+male Ageless Male Supplement

    I pointed to a story about Coakley being too good to shake hands with her voters at Fenway Park in the cold.

  • http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/watchdog/ Ricky Young

    i read this quickly and thought the female was 14… i now see it doesn’t say, not that i see. how old is she? did the herald say?

  • Extremely Disgruntled

    Dead on Mr. True: I’ve been trying to enlighten the masses on this topic for years now. The most impressive failure that I have found so far is in Ohio. Bear with the length of this previous posting of mine, but this is a point that will go national soon enough..

    I understand that Ohio is quite fond of their 2907.03 Sexual
    Battery charge. It is completely used improperly on the A5 and A7 Sub-sections,
    are the ANTI-Stepparent and ANTI-Teacher laws to railroad the authoritative
    person into prison. Most Counties have convictions of Adult-stepchild victims. All the other states
    (and everywhere else in the world for that matter) other than Kentucky which
    clearly states on their law books- conduct is illegal at under age 19. (See http://www.supremecourtofohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2007/2007-ohio-606.pdf
    “State v. Lowe,” Stark County, be sure to pay attention to the dissenting
    opinion in paragraphs 28-32)

    Here are the 2907.03 subcodes taken via the Ohio Supreme Court link: http://codes.ohio.gov/orc – All ORC codes
    quoted are from this Government page.
    (A) No person shall engage in sexual conduct with another, not the spouse of
    the offender, when any of the following apply:
    (5) The offender is the other person’s natural or adoptive parent, or a
    stepparent, or guardian, custodian, or person in loco parentis of the other
    person.
    (6) The other person is in custody of law or a patient in a hospital or other
    institution, and the offender has supervisory or disciplinary authority over
    the other person.
    (7) The offender is a teacher, administrator, coach, or other person in
    authority employed by or serving in a school for which the state board of
    education prescribes minimum standards pursuant to division (D) of section
    3301.07 of the Revised Code, the other person is enrolled in or attends that
    school, and the offender is not enrolled in and does not attend that school.

     

    But
    you need to know the definitions:

    2907.01 Sex offenses general definitions.

    As used in sections 2907.01 to 2907.38 of the Revised Code:

    (A) “Sexual conduct” means vaginal intercourse between a male and female;
    anal intercourse, fellatio, and cunnilingus between persons regardless of sex;
    and, without privilege to do so, the insertion, however slight, of any part of
    the body or any instrument, apparatus, or other object into the vaginal or anal
    opening of another. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete
    vaginal or anal intercourse.

    This definition by itself does not allow a MALE to be raped except
    anally. This also denies any charge to a female for raping a male vaginally,
    even at gunpoint!

    So if Missy Miss with the Glock decides she wants to have vaginal sex with
    Mr. Mister at loaded gunpoint, by definitions, he can’t be the victim. Unless
    she sticks something in his rectum, THEN and only then, can he be legally raped
    by the above definitions.

    I believe that all biological (blood related) incest
    within and including second cousins is wrong, no matter what age. But what I
    don’t understand is that every other of the higher sub-sections after this one
    (#6 and up to #12,) pretty much state “person in authority over victim,” or
    “minor victim.” As in “abuse of power” and/or “underage” as the laws were
    originally intended. Well, since being written, Prosecutors have realized that
    A5 and A7 are shortcuts to convictions for two ADULTS involved. I warn anyone
    moving or living in Ohio who is a male step-parent, or either gendered Higher
    Education Teacher about these facts. All you need to do is tick someone off,
    and their family can SAY you did something. The law allows no room for a
    defensive response, no evidence is needed, just someone complaining. The MAN is
    always GUILTY. No matter that the “child” is an ADULT. No matter if the adult
    step-child or student initiated the encounter. Or legally gets raped by the
    adult stepchild or adult student. So in effect this law DENIES a step-parent or
    a teacher the opportunity to ever be a VICTIM of a crime by the other person under these specific conditions that CAN and DO exist in other states.
    HMMMM.. I have yet to see a step-MOTHER found guilty of this charge. Another
    HMMMM. Now, take this for-instance—If the step father is 70 and the
    stepdaughter is 50, IT’S STILL AGAINST THE LAW! (as long as he’s still married
    to the mother.) Another hypothetical is that the divorce is not finalized until
    notified by mail. Something is illegal before reading the mail that BECOMES
    legal THE SAME DAY, after reading the mail. I really don’t think that the
    legislature intended a morning illegal and afternoon legal law. Ohio also has
    no law against two biological siblings from breeding together, as long as they
    don’t get married. This concerns me that no one in the legislature has ever
    proposed such a law. The concern there is that maybe, those same lawmakers
    actually have that problem in their family. No disrespect: but maybe there are
    some Aunt-Mom’s and Uncle Dad’s in their lineage somewhere. Truly boggles the
    mind, as unbelievable. I just had a heinous thought, What if…. There was a
    sexual relationship between a man and a woman in PA, they are living together.
    He is 30, she is 21. He’s a college teacher in Ohio, she goes to his school as
    a student, but they LIVE together in PA, because they are engaged. If they go
    “at it” in Ohio, he goes to prison for up to 5 years per “encounter,”
    because they are not married. She then gets part of the “victims
    fund” dispersed to her, (averaging close to $3000 to each victim today, per OH State AG website)
    so she makes money for putting him away. Pretty cool way to make money. I
    wonder how many Ohio females actually subsidize their income this way??? How
    many innocents are actually falsely convicted, or plead out to these
    crimes?  ONLY IN OHIO, because of
    outright lies, or even lightly stretched truths?? He then becomes a Tier 3
    offender with community notification for life! How fair is that?????

  • Trueview

    We live on the Northshore, my wife and myself, I have been labeled an RSO3 by the sham we call government. Ladonna, for a moment I thought your comment was written by my lovely wife. It is a real delight to know we are not alone. These laws smack of nothing less than hatred aimed more often than not at people who cannot afford a LAW FIRM to defend them (just look at the level 3 registry and tell me how many are from the upscale side of town); laws that demean and dehumanize those marked, making them for all practical purposes unemployable, a target, a pariah. Hitler and his very very sick friends tried all these tactics first on Unions and Gypsys and Catholics and then the Jews years ago and look what happened! People were either filled with hatred or with fear. Let us never hide and let us never be silent until these unAmerican and unConstitutional so called SEXoffender laws are struck completely down where they belong – in the dirt.

  • Trueview

    We live on the Northshore, my wife and myself, I have been labeled an RSO3 by the sham we call government. Ladonna, for a moment I thought your comment was written by my lovely wife. It is a real delight to know we are not alone. These laws smack of nothing less than hatred aimed more often than not at people who cannot afford a LAW FIRM to defend them (just look at the level 3 registry and tell me how many are from the upscale side of town); laws that demean and dehumanize those marked, making them for all practical purposes unemployable, a target, a pariah. Hitler and his very very sick friends tried all these tactics first on Unions and Gypsys and Catholics and then the Jews years ago and look what happened! People were either filled with hatred or with fear. Let us never hide and let us never be silent until these unAmerican and unConstitutional so called SEXoffender laws are struck completely down where they belong – in the dirt.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/FFFTEPADNCAVAMHCWE2HV7WZ4U OBonga OblameBo

    Skunks!

  • http://www.CraigSilverman.ca CraigSilverman

    Just want to clarify that the Globe did publish the story. After the story ran in the paper, the Globe learned the man was a RSO and that’s when it said it would not have published the story if it had known of his status ahead of time. Thanks all for your comments.

  • ladonna utley

    There is absolutely no reason to have looked for his criminal history and to have done so and killed the story disgusts me!!!!  This was a story about LOVE and obviously this couple fit that story.  His status as a registered sex offender has no bearing on the story and means nothing!!!!!   there is NO reason at all for this story to not have been published and there is no reason to bring up his status.  What?  a RSO can’t be in love?  Bull!!!!  I am married to an RSO and we are very much in love and if the Globe wants to do a story, I’d be more than happy to tell ours!!!  Maybe they should do stories on RSO’s and present the public with FACTS instead of playing a part in they hype the media and politicians spread amongst the public.  Contact me if you want to do a real love story!!!!!  DJ and I have a real story to tell and so do so many others in our shoes.  

  • Tim Schreier

    I think it is a missed opportunity by the reporter.  The story in itself sounds kind of boring but add in the past of the persons involved, it becomes a story of redemption as well.  Clearly The Globe was thinking about the victims of the offender so I can not fault them for second guessing whether they would run the story or not.  This is really an interesting dilemma.  But on the surface, I would not run a story about “Love Found at Occupy Boston” regardless…  It is kind of stale and boring…  Given the real issues of the Occupy movement.

    Tim Schreier
    New York, NY

  • Anonymous

    F**** the Boston Globe. I hope they go out of business. I’m sick and tired of the media’s faux moral standing. The guy served his time, that should be the end of it. So a guy on the registry (for anything from something serious to something as stupid as urinating behind a tree and getting caught by some lookie-lou) can’t find love and join a protest against mistreatment? How stupid.

  • http://www.facebook.com/retroglamour Shana Rowan

    I am disgusted with the Boston Globe. WHO CARES if this man is a registered sex offender? Does the Boston Globe believe that sex offenders are not capable of being in relationships or that they shouldn’t be? Would it have made a difference if the man had been previously been arrested for something like domestic violence, physical assault, or another crime? For a society, and especially a state that usually prides itself with open-mindedness and liberal thinking, they have shown to be not only massively misinformed, but extremely discriminatory.

  • http://sexoffenderissues.blogspot.com/ SOIssues

    What difference does it make that a ex-sex offender is at the meeting?  The media makes me sick how they and the public demonize someone for past mistakes.  STOP IT!!!!!!!!

    If the man commits a crime, then do like you do everyone else, arrest him.

    http://www.facebook.com/OfficialSOIssues
    http://sexoffenderissues.blogspot.com