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Journalism 101: Naming Names

This was a big week in journalism, with the Pulitzer Prize honoring the best of the best. But also, lately, journalism has taken a drubbing - from bogus stories written by newspaper stars, to publishing the name of Juror No. 4 in the high-profile trial of two Tyco executives.

After the Wall Street Journal and New York Post outed the Tyco juror last month, she received a disturbing letter from a stranger, criticizing her holdout stance against conviction. The juror told the judge about the letter. He declared a mistrial, citing the outside pressure brought on by the juror's notoriety.

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The media routinely withhold names when citing a person in stories. With victims of sex crimes, and with juvenile offenders, it's a matter of protecting the privacy of society's most vulnerable. With juries, it's to protect the sanctity of the jury room so a defendant gets a fair trial.

This self-editing is an imperfect practice, and does not always make sense (some argue, for instance, that rape has lost the stigma it once had, and that withholding a rape victim's name is discriminatory). In the case of jury identification, names are a matter of public record. Tradition, rather than law, dictates restraint.

In its defense, the Wall Street Journal pointed out that the name was already available in the court record. It also said the juror forfeited her anonymity by drawing attention to herself through her behavior in open court: allegedly flashing the defense team an "OK" sign that all was well.

But the "OK" signal was disputed among reporters, which should have put the outing decision in doubt. In interviews this week, the juror denied giving such a signal. She also said that if the judge had not declared a mistrial, she would have stood firm, resulting in a hung jury anyway.

That revelation does nothing to relieve the judge's well-founded concern that the outing could adversely affect future jury selection and service. Prosecutors plan to retry the Tyco case. The media shouldn't botch it again.


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