By Stein, M. L.
Editor & Publisher , Vol. 125, No. 21
California newspapers take heat for publishing names and towns of jurors who acquitted police in the Rodney King beating
California newspapers that ran the names and hometowns of the jurors who acquitted the four policemen who beat black motorist Rodney King were deluged with calls from angry readers.
The reaction to the publication in the Ventura County Star-Free Press was so strong that editor John Bowman offered readers a published apology, saying the decision "did not neccessarily serve the public good."
Bowman said the paper received about 600 phone calls from "angry" readers at a time when Los Angeles and other cities were hit by violent riots in the wake of the King verdict.
"Some of them really cussed us out." he added.
The protesters expressed fear for the jurors' safety. There were reports of at least two jury members receiving threats.
Bowman attributed the heavy reaction to a radio broadcast by conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh who targeted the Star-free Press for revealing the names.
The Star-free Press. Bakersfield Californian and the Los Angeles Daily News published the names, hometowns, and brief biographical sketches of the jurors from information taken from questionnaires they had filled out at the time they had been impaneled.
The list was prepared by the Daily News and moved on the New York Times News Service wire. The Associated Press also distributed the identities of the jurors but not their hometowns or other information about them. USA Today published their names only.
The Californian received an estimated 60 to 100 irate calls, some prompted by the Limbaugh broadcast.
Bowman, in his statement, said that, while the Star-Free Press still believes that discussion helps further public understanding, "we recognize that, in this instance, that choice to run the names was perhaps more properly the jurors'. than ours....If we could turn the clock back...and all the circumstances were the same, we would not publish the names - at least not at that time."
In a column on the Californian's call on exposing, the names, executive editor Robert Bentley attributed it to "lapses in judgment . . . . Publication of the jurors' identities was a mistake. We regret it and hope the jurors have no need to."
However, Daily News editor Bob Burdick defended his decision to print the names and the other facts.
Noting that each juror had signed a document before the trial acknowledging that his or her name would become public, Burdick declared: "It is inconceivable that the identities of the jurors could have been kept secret because people who worked with them, families, and friends knew who they were. …