Some Papers Keep Calling Rape/Murder Victim a ‘Woman’ — But Here’s a Reason

By: Sarah Weber

Since Monday, when Reuters and others confirmed, based on documents, that the young female at the center of a current rape/murder case in Iraq involving U.S. troops was indeed 14 years old, most news organizations have quit calling her a “woman” in favor of “girl.” Today, The New York Times published an article by Jim Dwyer and Robert F. Worth on the troubled past of Steven D. Green, one of the men charged in the case. It mentioned the victim twice, once as a “14-year-old girl” and second time as a “14-year-old.”

At least eight papers around the country which picked up the story ran it exactly like that, but on the Web sites of three major newspapers that carried the Times story the phrase ?young Iraqi woman? reappeared, suggesting that editors at the papers had revised the Times’ article based on outdated information, for whatever reason.

In reality, E&P has learned, the Times’ story that appeared in early editions, and was sent out to papers at first, included the “woman” descriptive. A revised version later appeared and was also sent out.

The three papers that ran the ?young Iraqi woman? phrase were the International Herald Tribune, the San Francisco (Calif.) Chronicle, and the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman.

Fred Zipp, the managing editor of the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, said that after speaking to the Statesman reporter who edited the New York Times syndicated piece, he found that his paper published the story as is. Still, he considers it “lax editing on our part” for not noticing the change in the later version from the Times.

Laurence M. Paul, the executive editor of The New York Times News Service and The New York Times Syndicate, said the paper’s first two versions were sent out on the wire at 9:41 p.m. and 10:33 p.m. and “both referred to her as a young Iraqi woman. Some editor for the later version changed it to a 14-year-old girl.? That version, Paul said, was sent out at approximately 12:07 a.m. today.

Paul noted that the latest version he had still contained one ?young woman? reference: ?Apparently our editor in the news service didn?t notice it was changed in the last graph.?

After Reuters produced a passport and identity card last weekend that identified the victim as 14-year-old Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi, The New York Times was one of the first newspapers to begin referring to the victim either as a girl or simply stating her age. Others also made the switch quickly, while The Associated Press and some others took a couple of days to catch up.

However, the continuance of ?woman? references in some places to this day has perpetuated the controversy surrounding the victim?s age, which at one point was speculated to have been 20 to 25.

“The folks on our wire desk have been discussing how to qualify the victim’s age, and seem to be inclined to go with teenager,? said Zipp. ?Our correspondent in Iraq has also confirmed she was a teenager.”

Paul was open in his views concerning the matter, saying, ?If I were editing the story, I would refer to her as a girl. … I see the difference between [saying] ?14-year-old? and ?woman?, one softens the impact a little bit. …

?If we were talking about her in a different context, [for example] a precocious 14-year-old young woman who was being admitted to Harvard because she was a genius student, you might expect in that context to refer to her as a young woman.?

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