Should Women Suing “Girls Gone Wild” Be Allowed To Stay Anonymous?

Four women, who were between the ages of 13 and 17 when they were filmed flashing their breasts by “Girls Gone Wild” goons, have asked to pursue their lawsuit without being named. The women, who are now in their 20s, said when they appeared in the “Girls Gone Wild” videos as teens in Panama City, Florida, they were ridiculed and forced to leave their schools. Their lawyers battled in court recently, arguing that as the women sue Joe Francis for exploitation, there is no need for their identities to be revealed. “Their names” — in addition to their breasts — “are going to be everywhere,” attorney Rachael Pontikes argued. Alas, an unsympathetic FL judge rejected their request and now the women have filed an appeal.

But this debate isn’t just about boobs, exploitation and poor judgment. It’s also about journalism!Two journalistic groups, Florida Freedom Newspapers, Inc. and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, are adding their voices to the chorus in this lawsuit to remind everyone “openness,” as a lawyer for their team put it, is integral to freedom of the press. Keeping names anonymous could be a slippery slope leading to so much privacy that journalists are unable to do their duty of checks and balances. Furthermore, the lawyers for the press argue, newspapers could be told the names of the young women but individually decide not to publish them. That is the standard practice for many media outlets, including the Associated Press, when it comes to victims of rape. The press will be unable to faithfully do the background research and fact-checking that’s integral to good journalism if they’re not even given all the answers in the first place.

I’m truly torn on this story. On the one hand, like victims of rape are allowed to do, I do think these young women are entitled to try to keep as much of their privacy as possible. They did what they did when they were minors — as young as 13! Furthermore, those videos have already been seen by people they know; their names being Google-able will only blow that embarrassment up. It’s reasonable to assume the women will be harassed, too. Out of a sense of human dignity, these women should be spared further humiliation.

I also have little to no faith in the press’ argument that they should be told the names and they can choose not to publish them. Distinguished outlets like the AP will do that, sure. But what other “press” will get their names? Perez Hilton? Radar Online? Like it or not, a lot of trashy publications with low editorial and moral standards exist and they will be all to happy to print these women’s names — and who knows what other details they’ll dig up? In this regard, the ability to do research has a dark side.

But on the other hand, I understand and empathize with everything the news outlets are arguing about adhering to the First Amendment. If I were the journalist covering this (or any future case that uses this as a precedent), I would never want some information to be kept secret. It’s just an “on principle” thing and it’s what makes America a better place for journalism than, say, Russia. At a certain point, don’t you have to tell the young women that it sucks their names are all over the internet but principles are more important?

I’m split down the middle, but curious about what you all think. I think we can agree one thing is for sure, though. The writers of the First Amendment probably never could have imagined they’d be caught up in a “Girls Gone Wild” s**tshow!

[Washington Post]

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