A few months ago, a story surfaced about a teenager, Tyler Pagenstecher, who was arrested for “selling up to $20,000 worth of high-grade marijuana a month to high school students in southwestern Ohio.” He was recently convicted and sentenced to six months in jail.
According original reports, Pagenstecher was part of a drug ring with other dealers working for him, but what I found amazing was the news outlets reticence to either name or show pictures of this major teen drug dealer in early news stories. Instead, the only pictures were from behind while he was in court, yet these same stories continually did everything to sculpt the story of a kid from a good suburban neighborhood who got caught up in a selling drugs. They always emphasized that he didn’t spend the money on lavish clothes or cars. Basically, he wasn’t your stereotypical drug dealer (poor or a person of color), so give him break!
Typically the news doesn’t have any issue showing juveniles accused and arrested for heinous crimes like the teen accused in the Chardon, Ohio school shooting. His name was released fairly quickly as well as negative information about his family. At the time I was surprised by how much negative information was released considering he hadn’t been charged yet.
In another recent case, a black teenage football star was charged “with two counts of [raping]” “an acquaintance.” In the link and on multiple news stories, the accused was identified; although he had yet to be convicted. Local television news stories glossed over parts of the story that didn’t make sense and focused on how he was being recruited by Ohio State University. In fact, his recruitment by OSU and other colleges was the major focus of most stories; it seemed to imply that these schools had dodged recruiting a bad apple who’d tarnish their sports programs.
I am against releasing the names of juveniles or their picture. First of all, they may not even be guilty and that guilt can only be determined once they’ve had a trial and been convicted. Secondly, even if a child is convicted of a crime, because they are so young they should be given the opportunity to serve their sentence and have a fresh start in their lives. Finally and most importantly, news outlets are not consistent in whom they name and reveal to the public.
In an Associated Press story on the drug dealing teen, it states:
The Associated Press is naming Pagenstecher because of the seriousness of the crimes and because teen’s identity quickly became public following the announcement of the charges against him when he was 17.
In light of this statement, what makes a crime “serious” enough to warrant revealing a juvenile? Also, in spite of the “seriousness of the [crime],” would they have chosen not to reveal his name if his “identity [didn’t] quickly [become] public?” Why should any individual news outlet or reporter have discretion to drastically affect the lives of people so young?
It often seems the media is more willing to identify juveniles who are either white and poor or people of color. If a kid is white and from the suburbs, society should cut them some slack because they can’t possibly be on their way to a life a crime. Even if they are part of a drug dealing enterprise individually earning $240,000 a year and have their own underlings to help sell the marijuana…
If these outlets do not consistently reveal the identities of juveniles, then they should just abstain for doing so at all. Every child should be afforded the same discretion and benefit of the doubt.