What’s today, Wednesday? So it’s been five days since we first published the photos of Warren Jeffs and the 12-year-old girl. The photos, if legitimate, seem destined to become the poster image for the FLDS/child bride debate. But for whatever reason, the photos didn’t break into the spotlight immediately. Only today do they seem to be coming into the national conversation. Almost a week after their release are they popping up all over the Internet as news outlets and blogs “discover them.”
The delayed reaction is surprising from here in San Angelo. We hadn’t seen anything like these photographs released before and expected their release to go off like a bomb last week. We expected shows like Nancy Grace and CNN to pipe them into your homes nonstop all weekend long. And that was probably the hope of Child Protective Services (CPS).
But it didn’t happen. All was quiet over Memorial Day Weekend, and only a few outlets picked up on the photographs. But then The Smoking Gun put them online yesterday and everything kicked off from there. They are now spreading like a virus coming out of its incubation period.
One thing to note for all of you ethicists is that many news outlets are running the photographs with no attempt to conceal the identity of the girl, and some are even printing her name (which was handwritten on the sheet of photos). The Tribune decided to blur the girl’s face to protect her identity in case she is a victim of sexual abuse. Our policy is to not identify victims of sexual abuse.
I was in the hearing last Friday when the photos were first introduced into evidence. As the lawyers handed the three sheets of photographs showing Warren Jeffs holding and kissing two different young girls, I was craning my neck for a better view. The photos were released at the next break in testimony.
We were the only media outlet in the hearing that had two staffers. So while the reporters were stuck in the courtroom listening to testimony, I was able to wait in the clerk’s office for the first copies of the photos.
Once they were in my hand I calmly walked out and down the steps of the courthouse, trying to act normal as I went to my car to send the photos with my laptop. I didn’t want the masses of broadcast (TV) media outside to realize we had a scoop.
My call to the Tribune with news of the photographs came during the afternoon budget meeting and sent a buzz through the assembled editors. Again, I’m talking last Friday. That’s when we had it. Smoking gun or not, we were first.