Do a crime victim’s political beliefs matter?

The two major daily newspapers in the Twin Cities played the story differently of a delegate to the Republican National Convention who was allegedly drugged and robbed by a woman he took to his room.

The Star Tribune played it straight, although it left out a key element — the man was single — that might’ve prevented a leap to the assumption that it was just another family values guy cheating on his wife and family.

However it also included this salient point: there is no indication the crime had anything to do with prostitution.

schwartz_delegate.jpg In other words, Gabriel Nathan Schwartz, 29, was the victim of a crime in Minneapolis, same as 203 others in Minneapolis at roughly the same time.

The difference? Their political beliefs weren’t the story. In the St. Paul Pioneer Press this morning 14 of the 31 paragraphs in the story were about Schwartz’s politics.

A paragraph in which Schwartz said he didn’t want to comment on the theft “because the case is still under investigation” was followed by one which said, “During the convention, Schwarz wasn’t shy about talking to the media.”

The headline in the morning paper, “Republican by day, Romeo by night, robbed in the morning,” was changed online (the online version initially used the original headline) to “GOP delegate’s hotel tryst goes bad when he wakes up with $120,000 missing,” a somewhat milder, less judgmental approach.

The story also cited a video of Schwartz saying the U.S. should “bomb the hell out of Iran,” that protesters in St. Paul should “get a job” and that he donated $2,300 to John McCain.

Clearly Schwartz’s views set him somewhat at odds with a number of Minnesotans (they’re hawkish enough where you almost wonder if the guy was pulling the interviewer’s leg) , but what was the takeaway: that getting drugged and robbed served him right?

If so, the paper’s readers got the hint. A sample comment attached to the story said…

To me, anyone who walks around with $60K of bling is asking for it. My guess is that he chatted up his “friend” by making sure she knew how much everything cost… and he probably told her that he had lots more where that came from. And then she went to work doing to him what he clearly wanted to do to her.

…but not everyone bought into it.

I’ve never seen so much biographical information about a crime VICTIM in my life! The next time some woman gets raped, will the PioneerPress investigate who she voted for in recent elections, or what jewelry she might have been wearing? I’ll admit the guy sounds like an overly outspoken jerk, but does that make him deserving of the ridiculous tone of the article? Wow.

The Associated Press, which distributed the story after rewriting it from the Pioneer Press, removed all references to the man’s political beliefs.

Messages to the editor and reporter on the story have not yet been returned but I’ll post their perspective when it’s available.

Update David Hanners was kind enough to send along his thoughts in an e-mail this afternoon:

As I’m in the Minneapolis office, the only discussion I’m personally aware of was between my editor and myself, and I believe it is generally inappropriate to speak publicly about such in-house conversations. I don’t know what discussions, if any, may have taken place between my editor and his superiors.

That said, I wouldn’t agree with the supposition that it is “unusual” to see a crime victim’s politics mentioned in an article. It depends on the article and the facts at hand. Every situation is different, and there are situations where it is wholly appropriate to make reference to the victim’s politics.

In this case, the guy was in town because of the convention, and he spoke to the media while here. While the crime itself may not have been politically motivated (the public portion of the police report is silent on that matter) he was in town because of his politics. He seemed an interesting person.

Sometimes, we do articles on extraordinary events that happen to Average Joes, or we do articles about routine events that happen to noteworthy people. The size of the theft here was extraordinary, and he was somewhat noteworthy because of politics. Those circumstances added up to a story.

Update Thom Fladung, the editor at the Pioneer Press responds:

1. The reported loss of $120,000 in the robbery. That doesn’t seem like a typical Twin Cities robbery to me. And as the Minneapolis police sergeant put it, such a loss is “very, very, very rare.” Your story notes that Schwartz was the victim of a crime “same as 203 others” in Minneapolis around the same time. If some of those were robberies or burglaries that resulted in losses of $100,000-plus, I’d like to see us do stories about those, too. And did these other crimes involve convention delegates?

2. The victim was a delegate to one of the highest-profile events ever in the Twin Cities. As such, it seems to me, that further separated him from other crime victims.

3. A person who reportedly loses this kind of money at an event like a national political convention under these circumstances would then naturally seem to be an interesting person. We reported more about him, and his political positions and public statements about politics were part of that reporting. What’s the relevance of his politics? That they added more background about the person. We also reported that he was single and an attorney. I certainly didn’t have any “takeaway” from the story that he deserved to be drugged and robbed for his political views.

Update 4:04 p.m. According to the Associated Press, the victim has released a statement:

“It’s embarrassing to admit that I was a target of a crime,” Schwartz said in a statement Tuesday. “I was drugged and had about $50,000 of personal items stolen.”

Schwartz said news reports that he had been taken for as much as $150,000 were inflated and based on an inaccurate police report.

“As a single man, I was flattered by the attention of a beautiful woman who introduced herself to me. I used poor judgment. If there is any good that can come from this humiliation, it is to caution others that date rape drugs can be used on men, too,” he said.