What does it mean to name names?

In my column Sat, I complimented one of Denver’s local TV news stations, CBS 4, for promising not to release the names of men who may have been soliciting prostitutes from a high-end escort service, catering to lawyers, pro athletes, businesspeople and such.

Here’s CBS 4’s policy: “CBS4 is not identifying the customers without the clients confirming the information or law enforcement releasing the names.”

Ironically enough, CBS 4 announced this policy at the conclusion of a sleazy story about the alleged prostitution ring–a story based on an interview with a prostitute who described orgy-like parties at a fancy Denver club.

The story had little credibility, because the only source was the prostitute, who inherently lacks credibility. You wouldn’t expect any journalist to release the names of Johns simply on the basis of a prostitute’s interview. CBS 4 didn’t do this, even though the prostitute named three guys.

But strangely enough–or predictably enough for local TV news–CBS 4 couldn’t resist senationalizing an already sensational story by reporting the prostitute’s allegation that a robe with the name of Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper was used by partygoers, including prostitutes, at the Denver Club.

CBS 4 not only announced this, but actually asked Hickenlooper about it. He denied any connection to the prostitution ring, through his spokesperson. He plays squash at the club, along with many other Denver muckety mucks.

Given that the prostitute interviewed by CBS 4 did not say Hick was involved in the sex parties, and CBS 4’s information that many high-profile men attend the club, I don’t think CBS 4 violated its own policy by releasing Hick’s name in this context. Still, it was a stupid and potentially damaging way to add star appeal to the story.

Another CBS 4 story, broadcast later, actually comes closer to crossing the station’s own ethical line. The station reported that federal agents were searching email accounts of Brenda Stewart, the owner of the Denver Players escort service, which allegedly provided prostitutes for high-profile Denver men and for the sex parties at the Denver club.

In this story, CBS 4 actually named a man who told CBS 4 that he loaned money to Brenda Davis, but he told News 4 that “he had no idea she may have been involved in a prostitution ring.” He also denied knowing anything about Denver Players.

This wasn’t a violation of CBS 4’s own standard but it did violate the spirit of it–because you are left wondering if the guy who allegedly loaned money to Davis is lying. And what’s the news value of informing us that this man lent money to an accused prostitute. There’s little or no public interest benefit to doing this, just like there’s no public interest value, as CBS 4 says, in releasing names of Johns linked to Denver players–unless their names are released by law inforcement or they confess. An exception to this rule may apply if elected officials are involved.

CBS 4 definitely deserves credit for its policy on releasing the names of Johns, but it’s not above rushing to the gutter on this story either.

One Response to “What does it mean to name names?”

  1. AlexaD Says:

    “The story had little credibility, because the only source was the prostitute, who inherently lacks credibility. ”

    I’m sorry, why does the prostitute “inherently” lack credibility, and not the customers of prostitutes? Is it because she’s doing something illegal? Well, so is the customer.

    Please explain this. Why does someone who sells sex “inherently” lack credibility?

    As I see it, generally speaking, if the names of the prostitutes are released, so should the names of their customers, since *both* are breaking the law.

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