Sometimes, an incident becomes news before it’s properly investigated.
Today’s editions of The Age and the Geelong Advertiser reported that a woman has claimed that Geelong forward Paul Chapman assaulted her at about 5:00am on Sunday morning in the centre of town. Of course, no-one reading the reports can tell just how much truth there is to the claim – for all we know, Chapman is guilty of assault and should be suspended and charged appropriately…or, perhaps, the woman is greatly misrepresenting the event and Chapman is not guilty of any wrongdoing.
Either way, what is the benefit of the public reading about it before the police actually review the CCTV footage and determine what really happened?
By publishing the claim before it has been proven, the newspapers encourage their audiences to make presumptions – one feels as if they should take a side and determine whether or not they believe that Chapman is guilty.
Seemingly to help members of the public make this decision, The Age published the statement of 18 year-old Alex Woollett:
“Then (Chapman) tried getting in my Frieda face n I stood inberween n said look f—k off and don’t start ya shit … Then i pushed … him away n he pushed back.. Thn it was on …eeeeek! He must feeel pretty touugh though hitting a girl.. I don’t care os I didn’t feel it cos I was drunk…And he went nuts so then I went nuts and arghh hectikk. It was unacceptable. I hit my head pretty bad on the ground, when I got thrown to the ground. I’m still pretty knocked up from it.’’
Both papers published some of Woollett’s comments on Facebook, where she said that Chapman is “ment to be an idol.. He’s a bloody joke! He threw me to the ground in the midde of the road! Weak dog.”
Both papers also informed the audience that Woollett refers to herself as “Alickz” on Facebook, permitting all of their readers to visit her site which is on public display.
Alickz’s Facebook page does not represent her as a faultless character witness. Not only does she claim that she is “pretty stupidd” and loves “going out and getting drunk”, but she’s also a member of groups “join if you drink to get drunk” and “If smoking can kill you thenn why are they still makeing the ciggarettes…?” She openly states that Chapman is a “fuc*ing wanker” and admits that “as soon as everything was over I was singing the collingwood theme song and got tackled by a security guard.”
Access to this site certainly doesn’t fill the reader with confidence in Woollett’s claims.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, readers of the Geelong Advertiser today have widely ignored Woollett’s penchant for drinking to excess, and instead pounced on the fact that she’s a Collingwood supporter who, thus, must be clearly in the wrong and wanting to cause trouble for their beloved All-Australian Cat.
All of these thoughts, of course, have the potential to be grossly unfair to the 18 year-old girl at the centre of this allegation. If Chapman did in fact assault her, then what good has come from the newspapers revealing her allegation before it is proven, other than making Woollett out to be of dubious character? Surely, any 18 year-old girl’s drinking habits, football allegiance, spelling and vocabulary are entirely irrelevant when it comes to the sympathy that she deserves if she is, in fact, the victim of an assault.
And on the other hand, if Chapman did not assault her, then what good has come from the newspapers revealing her allegation before it is disproven, other than making Chapman out to be of dubious character?
According to the Advertiser,
“Onlookers said they saw a woman arguing with the Norm Smith medallist and as he told her to get away, he was tackled to the ground by up to three men. It is claimed shocked bystanders told the men hovering over Chapman to leave him alone. Witnesses told the Geelong Advertiser yesterday they saw a punch thrown during the fracas. One witness suggested that Chapman had been bleeding after the incident.”
And yet, the headline reads “Chappy Brawl Probe”, with an aggressive Chapman pointing at someone in the front cover’s main image. The Age has the story on the front of its website too: “Top Cat a ‘Weak dog’, says woman,” reads the headline. “Teen claims Geelong star Paul Chapman assaulted her during drunken confrontation.”
Anyone who doesn’t reach the fine-print mid-article is left with the impression that Chapman assaulted a teenage girl.
Whatever comes out in tomorrow’s paper is, we assume, going to shed some light on the validity of Woollett’s allegations and the level of Chapman’s culpability. But surely questions should be being asked of the media in this case. For how many people have already made up their minds about Woollett and Chapman thanks to what has been published in the past 24 hours?