Dear Charlottesville Journalists,
Your coverage of Commonwealth Attorney Denise Lunsford’s victimization by a vengeful ex? It’s…it’s not good. I’m being gentle here. As a refresher, prominent Missouri attorney and alcoholic David Cosgrove confessed in a court filing to posting nude photographs of Lunsford online after she broke up with him, and then had the gall to tell the court that he had every right to post those nude photographs, regardless of her wishes. So we have a powerful man publicly sexually humiliating and slut-shaming his victim. The only way that sexual humiliation works is if people know about it. That’s the point.
By writing about this matter in great detail—far more detail than was possibly necessary—you have helped to further Cosgrove’s victimization of Lunsford. When a woman files a restraining order against an abusive ex for the terrible information that he’s broadcasting about her, basically the worst thing that you can do is broadcast that information to way, way more people. And you did exactly that, apparently unquestioningly. You’re precisely the vector that he needed to humiliate her.
Perhaps the gold star for incompetence goes to the unsigned story broadcast by CBS-19. Not content to merely write about the main thrust of the story, y’all went on to write that Cosgrove was also accusing Lunsford of watching “movies” with convicted sexual batterer Chris Dumler, in her home, “with her child present.” This is an accusation made by a man who has engaged in unarguably awful, abusive behavior towards his victim, for the purpose of humiliating her. The most reasonable conclusion to draw is that he’s found precisely the right way to further humiliate her—to accuse her of endangering her child (risking that her child could be taken from her by Child Protective Services) and threaten her employment (for what could be seen as an inappropriate relationship with a criminal). In repeating this claim, CBS-19 let Cosgrove not just humiliate Lunsford sexually, but also make her fear for her child and her career. You folks showed terrible judgment here.
I talked to one reporter today who shared with me a series of late-night, semi-coherent e-mails that she received from Cosgrove last month, e-mails that included some of the photographs in question. (The reporter tells me that only one photograph was nude, and that Lunsford does not appear to know that the photograph is being taken.) The reporter had no idea of who Cosgrove was, but felt that the e-mails “suggest a very drunk, scorned man.” The claims that he made in the e-mails were bizarre, definitely libelous, and I won’t repeat any of them here. The reporter asks Cosgrove why he’s sending these strange e-mails, and he replies: “[t]o afraid f your public official to do do. There is a story or 3 if you do your job and dig.” The reporter replied, simply: “I think you need to put down the bottle of whatever you’re drinking and deal with whatever you’re upset about…” And that was the end of that. Because a responsible reporter knows that there is nothing to be pursued. As attorneys say, any claims that come from this man are fruit of a poisonous tree—nothing that he says can be believed, based on his confessed actions, so he’s best ignored.
Here’s the thing that you need to remember about private sexual matters: they’re private. Sometimes, court filings contain those private details, because they are necessary for the judge to make a decision, and those are inherently public records. But a good journalist knows where to draw the line on how much detail to provide his readers.
Apparently I must remind you that you, too, are public figures. Especially news anchors, who appear in the homes of thousands of local folks every night. I used to live in the building where NBC-29 maintained an apartment for their newest anchors to use, while they got settled. I saw a lot of literal dirty laundry, when I’d encounter these lonely, bleary eyed folks in the building’s laundromat at 1:00 AM. I respected their privacy, as fun as it might have been to post here a photo of their lingerie. Many years ago, I got an e-mail from a young local reporter, distraught after somebody had discovered a long-abandoned webpage where she had written anonymously about her embarrassing sexual fetish. Somebody had connected the dots, figured out who she was, and she needed advice, since she was terrified that she’d lose her job. I assured her I’d do what I could to keep anything about it from becoming public and, as best I know, she got through it OK. Again, private sexual matters are private.
But all isn’t lost! A form of penance is available. You have accidentally tapped into a very real, very serious, widespread problem: revenge porn. None of you bothered to do any actual research before writing your stories, because if you had, you’d have known that right now—this very week, the very day that you broke this story—revenge porn is a very hot topic. See Monday’s New York Times story, or Tuesday’s Slate story. Need the facts? Check out Mary Anne Franks’ FAQ about revenge porn. Copy this sample legislation, paste it into an e-mail, and ask Del. David Toscano, Del. Rob Bell, and Sen. Creigh Deeds if they’ll introduce that bill into January’s General Assembly session. Need some first-person stories? Check out Women Against Revenge Porn, or maybe ask on your Twitter feed whether anybody who has been victimized might want to be interviewed anonymously (anonymously).
There, I’ve almost written the story for you. Do this, say 20 “Hail Mary”s, and then ask Denise Lunsford for forgiveness. You can do it. I know you can.