NEW YORK – Breaking with standards widely followed by the mainstream news media, the celebrity Web site TMZ posted a story Wednesday about a 14-year-old who's a movie star's son and an alleged sex crime victim, and it ran the boy's picture.
The story said the boy was in a relationship with a 22-year-old woman, whose ex-boyfriend tipped off police that she was having sex with a minor. Police have opened an investigation, the story said.
Almost all news organizations refrain from identifying sex crime victims, let alone show their picture, because of the stigma often attached to it, said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the journalism think tank Poynter Institute. The Associated Press' policy is not to identify people in such cases.
"The reason the story is even interesting to TMZ is because of who the child is," McBride said. "I'm not sure that alone is enough to justify" identifying the boy.
Harvey Levin, managing editor of TMZ, refused to speak about the decision to run the story.
"The story speaks for itself," he said through a spokeswoman.
The story was not reported on the Web site's syndicated television show.
TMZ is owned by Time Warner Inc., the media conglomerate which also owns Time Warner Cable, Warner Bros., the magazine publisher Time Inc. and a group of cable channels that includes HBO, CNN, TBS and TNT. A Time Warner spokesman referred calls on the matter to the company's Telepictures division, and a spokeswoman for Telepictures did not immediately return a call for comment.
If the victim in this case were a girl, McBride said she's not sure TMZ would have made the same decision.
"They think, `Good for this boy, when any young boy has sex with an older woman it's not a crime'," she said, "when of course it is. It's just as harmful for boys as it is for girls."
The Internet means that the gatekeepers who traditionally control the news are no longer in charge, said Jay Rosen, a New York University professor who runs the Web site Press Think.
In many cases, such as coverage of politics, that's a good thing, he added.
"This, to me, is not one of those cases," Rosen said. "There are very good reasons for keeping these names out of the news no matter how much interest there is in them."