Over the past year The New York Times has published thousands of words about the rape allegation against Heisman Trophy-winning Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston, all pointing to a single conclusion: He is guilty, and the state of Florida and his school have excused his crime because of his football prowess.
But there is a large body of evidence that The Times has kept from its readers that would lead a discerning reader to another conclusion: that Winston has been cleared by three separate investigations because the evidence shows that his claim that his accuser consented to have sex is as credible as her often-revised account.
The Times' coverage of the Winston controversy (and others like it) shows the nation's most influential newspaper exemplifying bias in the Winston case in particular and on the issue of campus rape in general. It comes at a time when Winston will soon be back in the news due to the 2015 NFL draft and a forthcoming film on campus sexual assault, “The Hunting Ground,” which showcases his accuser's public campaign against him while suggesting that the NFL should shun him.
The uncomfortable truth is that whether Winston committed a rape or whether his accuser is telling a false story cannot be established with confidence. This past December Florida State announced the results of its investigation of the accusation against Winston after a two-day hearing before retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding. He reviewed over 1,000 pages of evidence and legal arguments. Under university rules, the accuser needed to prove only that it was more probable than not that Winston subjected her to "any sexual act" without her consent or any other "sexual misconduct." Harding found that the case against Winston did not meet even that low threshold. "I do not find the credibility of one story substantially stronger than that of the other,” he wrote, “or that this encounter was nonconsensual."
The New York Times has devoted enormous resources to covering this controversy - more than 40 articles, including a 5,200-word piece by three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Walt Bogdanich -- probing the legal processes that have cleared Winston. But the newspaper’s coverage has been characterized by the same selective and agenda-driven presentation of the facts it faults Florida authorities for exhibiting.
The accuser, anonymous until last month, has now publicly identified herself and told her story in “The Hunting Ground.” Her name is Erica Kinsman. In her version of events, she was not only raped by Winston but also mistreated by her university and the criminal justice system in order to protect a nationally famed athlete. This is what The Times' coverage would lead readers to believe. But The Times has excluded a large body of evidence that undermines Kinsman’s credibility and supports Winston.