WPLG Local 10 Apologizes After Botching Rape Headline, Attacking Journalist Who Pointed It Out
Pro tip for any organization with a public social media page: Don't fight with critics using the company account — especially people accusing you of furthering rape culture by apologizing for someone accused of sexual assault.
That's pretty much exactly what WPLG Local 10's Twitter account did today. The station's official account launched a petty fight against New Times staff writer Jessica Lipscomb simply because she asked the station to fix a headline so it correctly called an accused rapist an accused rapist.
Local 10 later apologized, deleted those tweets, changed the headline, and said the employee behind the tweets had been "disciplined." But today's bizarre Twitter attack wasn't the only place Local 10's accounts went on the offensive over the story. New Times has found multiple comments from the TV station's official Facebook page arguing that sexual battery is not rape.
New Times reached Jeff Tavss, the WPLG employee who wrote the story at the center of the Twitter fight and acts as the station's
Last Friday, Local 10 published a story about a man accused of raping an unconscious woman in Miami Beach in broad daylight. The headline, however, was totally botched: "Man Arrested After Having Sex Outdoors With Incapacitated Woman in Miami Beach."
But the suspect was charged with "sexual battery," and police say he was found mid-intercourse with the unconscious woman. In other words: Police say he was raping her.
Lipscomb read the story over the weekend, noticed the mistake, and jokingly "fixed" the story by crossing out the words "having sex outdoors with" and replacing them with the more direct "raping."
Rather than, say, ignoring the criticism like a mature adult or simply saying, "We'll look into it," WPLG's social media director launched a full-on snark attack in a series of since-deleted tweets. (Unfortunately, not all have been preserved.)
"Thanks for submitting your work, but we currently have no job openings," some jackass wrote from the official account, which has 141,000 followers. "You keep working on you, though."
A few Twitter users, including local blogger @RedBroward, noticed the
"Really?" RedBroward wrote.
In response, WPLG doubled down, writing in a now-deleted tweet: "Kids these days, huh?"
Calling Lipscomb a "kid" is incorrect, insulting, and probably sexist. She's a veteran reporter who has been a finalist for the Livingston Award, which honors the most talented American reporters under the age of 35. It's effectively a Pulitzer Prize for young people.
RedBroward, meanwhile, responded that the story in question was "not exactly the best topic to try out the new 'snarky response initiative.'"
Other reporters also chimed in: After former reporter Kate Jacobson called the news outlet "rape apologists," WPLG callously wrote in a deleted tweet to "READ the story" before offering any criticism. To which Jacobson responded:
@WPLGLocal10 I read the headline and that was enough. You don't have sex with an unconscious person - you rape them.— Kate Jacobson (@katejacobson) March 6, 2017
Local 10 also said it was somehow allowed to report only exactly what police say happened — which is a wholly incorrect understanding of the basic tenets of journalism. Which Jacobson pounced on immediately:
@WPLGLocal10 I was a journalist for 10 years. That is bullshit.— Kate Jacobson (@katejacobson) March 6, 2017
After a few minutes, the fighting stopped — and WPLG instead offered an apology to Lipscomb:
We apologize to @jessicalipscomb and we have changed the headline. The social media director has been disciplined.— WPLG Local 10 News (@WPLGLocal10) March 6, 2017
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The new headline, though, still wasn't accurate: WPLG then called the suspect a "rapist," which is an error worthy of a libel lawsuit. Until proven guilty, the suspect is an "accused rapist," and WPLG eventually corrected its work fully.
After the debacle ended, New Times went back and read through the news station's Facebook comments on Friday — and they're even worse. In multiple posts last week, whoever was running the WPLG Facebook page repeatedly said sexual battery is not rape, and argued with commenters online:
In one instance, the person running the news station's Facebook page had the gall to write that the crime was "called whatever he was charged with and that's what we report. Extremely disappointing to see you using silly hashtags after a woman was sexually battered."
In addition to being patently misinformed about sexual assault, it seems Local 10 is also just bad at social media management.
And for the record: If you're caught having sex with an unconscious woman, you're raping her. Local 10 had no problem using the word "rape" on March 1, when the suspect — it's impossible not to note — was black:
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