The Orlando Morning Sentinel Hasn’t Changed Much

In 1920, the major newspaper of record in Orange County, Florida was the Orlando Morning Sentinel. On November 20, 1920, Ocoee, FL (within Orange County) was part of the “single bloodiest day in modern U.S. political history.” In several Florida counties, the Klan surrounded courthouses to keep Blacks from voting. It was a statewide effort involving the Democratic Party, the KKK, local law enforcement and the media that looked the other way. In Ocoee, over 50 Black citizens were killed, the rest of its Black citizens were either burned out, driven out or bought out at an unfair price. By November 23rd, there were no more Black residents in Ocoee. It remained that way for the next 61 years until 1981. The Orlando Morning Sentinel covered the Ocoee event to be sure. The headline referred to a “Race Riot in Ocoee” and “Two Whites Killed.” The Black families and lives didn’t matter then to the Orlando Morning Sentinel. I’m not so sure how much they do today?

The newspaper has changed ownership and names over the years. In 1965 the newspaper was sold to the large Tribune Company of Chicago (now TRONC). The paper became the Sentinel-Star in 1974 and in 1982 became the Orlando Sentinel. Typically a conservative newspaper over the years, they have endorsed Democrats in three of the last four Presidential Elections. In 1920, Democrats were different but was the Orlando Morning Sentinel?

Recently, an 11-year-old Black girl was abducted. An Amber alert was made and the girl’s name and picture were widely circulated. Every cell phone in the area received a message with information regarding the girl. Within a relatively short time, the girl was found, thankfully alive, and her kidnapper arrested. The information and description sent out to the community proved essential to her being discovered and freed. Someone who’d heard about the kidnapping spotted the abductor and child and reported their location.

When the girl was found. The Orlando Sentinel reported in great detail what had happened to her while in captivity. They described what had happened and more than one sexual act. The initial On-Line article even included the girl’s name in the URL although it’s, “No longer available.” One of the subsequent Sentinel articles quoted the girl’s father, “who the Orlando Sentinel is not naming to protect the victim’s identity.”

Too late Orlando Sentinel. Not only did you already directly provide the girl’s identity. You continue to provide enough information to make it possible to identify the victim. You identified her abductor including the exact familial relationship.  You identified the small subdivision where she lived. You all but placed her photo alongside his.

In 1920 the newspaper didn’t care about Black lives and apparently little has changed in 2017. I’m certain the newspaper has a policy about naming children who are victims of sexual assault. They disregarded that policy in order to report all the lurid details and proved that in this case, the Black girl’s life didn’t matter.

The girl will eventually return to a school. Will it be the same one she previously attended where everyone will no doubt know what occurred thanks to the Sentinel? Will the Sentinel be there to provide therapy to help the young girl get through the situation? It’s not enough to have taken down several of the articles you’ve already printed. What are you going to do to make this right?

In 1920, the Sentinel did nothing to make it right although it has run a couple articles over the past several years to document some of what they failed to do then. What will you do to make this right? You may have debated how much the public had a right to know. You may have wrestled with your decision. What you did was decide you cared nothing for the future of an 11-year-old girl. Was it easier or harder because she was Black? What are you going to do to make this right?

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