Public Editor

Why not name 67-year-old kidnapping victim?

Robert Caldwell, charged with federal counts of carjacking, using a firearm during a violent crime and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Robert Caldwell, charged with federal counts of carjacking, using a firearm during a violent crime and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

A very fair question from a reader, about a scary story in the news recently. A 67-year-old south Kansas City man was allegedly kidnapped by armed assailants, forced to withdraw money from ATMs, and transported across the state until he escaped in St. Louis.

Please consider explaining why the Star is withholding the name of the abduction victim, particularly since the story has gone Page One (on Jan. 29). I'm not opposed to this at all and probably favor it. Normally, journalists want to get all the facts out there, but not in this case. Why?

The most basic reason is that the man is the victim of a violent crime, and a private citizen. Although his wife spoke to the media, the man himself has not yet come forth.

Also possibly the most important consideration, especially at the time of the Page A-1 story: One of the alleged assailants was still on the run. He’s since been captured.

Journalists virtually always know more about the subjects they’re covering than they eventually disclose. Some of those details are unimportant, obviously, but some of them are integral parts of the story. Yet there are many reasons why it’s ethically wrong to make an absolute statement that everything known should be disclosed.

That’s never more true than when dealing with the victim of a crime. These people are not responsible for the news they happen to be caught up in, and many have zero interest in coming forth and becoming public figures. Journalists have a special responsibility to keep victims from further harm or scrutiny. It serves no greater public good to disclose the name of a private person in these cases most of the time.

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