As we at the American-Statesman have reported on the death of University of Texas student Haruka Weiser, we’ve received some pushback on social media and in story comments from readers who think we’re going too far.
Last night, Statesman reporter Tony Plohetski was the first to report that Weiser had been strangled and sexually assaulted. The report, based on carefully vetted sources whom we did not identify because they were not authorized to publicly disclose these details, answered one of the basic questions surrounding the case a week after Weiser’s death. It also raised the possibility of additional charges related to sexual assault, pending DNA results.
To us in the Statesman newsroom, this was a newsworthy development. Some readers weren’t so sure, as this story commenter put it:
I hope at some point in time the press and media will stop sniffing for yet more and more information about this woman’s demise to blab to the purient public. If necessary, pls put all such information in supermarket rags or TMZ and not in legitimate press. It is no one’s business other than officials and family about the grisly details of how she died.
We understand such concerns, of course. We have those very same discussions in the newsroom. We take the public’s right to know seriously, and we’re not just talking about a “prurient public” interested in horrific details. We’re talking about public safety, university security, law enforcement and prosecutorial accountability and, yes, even ensuring that the rights of the accused are protected. Manner of death in a high-profile homicide is the most basic of questions — one that had been asked by our readers for a week.
We understand that reading about any case will be difficult for the victim’s family. Like you, we feel for their loss. But we also have a responsibility and a mission to inform, and, unfortunately, that sometimes means reporting information that the victim’s family will not want to read. In a case like this, that will happen countless times as the case goes through the legal system. We took that into account with Tuesday’s story, making sure that law enforcement had a chance to notify Weiser’s family before our story published. We also exercised restraint in which crime-scene details to publish and which to omit at this time.
Today, some on Facebook took offense to our posting of an interactive timeline tracing the events outlined in Meechaiel Khalil Criner’s arrest affidavit. Others have requested that we not run Criner’s mugshot. Of course, those are the basics of a story that will continue to be reported out and followed by media not just here in Austin but around the world.
We understand that the details are not pleasant, but we believe that pursuit of those details is vitally important.
— John Bridges, managing editor