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Crime & Justice

Criticism of coverage in Manhattan Beach gay sex sting goes national

Suddenly, the story of a gay sex sting that nabbed 18 men in Manhattan Beach has become less about the arrests themselves and more about the coverage of the story.

As we reported last week, the men were arrested in a beachside men’s room, over a period of a few days, for allegedly engaging in lewd acts in a public place. Lifeguards had noticed that the place was being used for sexual encounters and informed police, who put a stop to it by sending in male undercover officers.

So far so good. But then the Manhattan Beach Police Department decided to release detailed information on the arrested men -- names, cities of residence, dates of birth and high-resolution mug shots -- and local news outlets gleefully republished the information, effectively “outing” the men forever.

That’s when the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center stepped in, expressing outrage that police and local media “would choose to publish the mug shots, names and birthdates of people charged with victimless crimes, simply because the charges are salacious or related to gay sex.” They added that “Publishing their photos serves no purpose other than to humiliate and destroy their lives,” and called on editors “to immediately remove the images and names” from websites. And a brouhaha ensued.

As of this morning, the story-about-the-story has been picked up by the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press (reposted in the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, etc.), the Huffington Post and many others.

The Gay & Lesbian Center also claims that one of the arrestees has already tried to commit suicide, showing how serious the matter is -- and leading some to wonder who are the victims in this case?

City Attorney Roxanne Diaz told the Times that police commonly release identifying information of arrestees, which is absolutely true. What’s different in the online media age, however, is that published information lasts not a few minutes or days or weeks, but forever. So it’s up to editors to decide whether permanently shaming someone for a victimless crime (for which they have not even been convicted) is worth a few extra page hits.