Should Underage Suspects Be Identified?

(CBS/AP)
One of the top stories on CBSNews.com today concerns a teenager "accused of running an escort service out of her suburban Chicago home using the popular Web site Craigslist."

The teenager in question is 17 years old. She is identified by name in the story, which is credited to the Associated Press. A number of other media outlets have also identified the teen by name, and a local CBS station in Chicago ran a picture of her.

I asked Mike Sims, director of news and operations at CBSNews.com, about CBSNews.com's policy when it comes to identifying minors accused of crimes.

"If the person is in the juvenile system, we typically do not identify them," said Sims. He noted that there can be exceptions to this rule, such as when the person is so well known that not identifying them would be pointless.

According to a staffer at the AP bureau in Chicago, the police released the teenager's name and mug shot. The Hillside, Illinois police department told me that the teenager has been charged as an adult.

Still, the case raises a number of ethical questions. Particularly for children, it can be damaging to be publicly identified with a crime, and members of the press corps should thus consider showing restraint when it comes to identifying those who have been charged but not convicted. At the same time, if the police do release this kind of information, it would be strange for the media not to pass it along – after all, it's part of the story.

I'm just not sure the press corps gets off quite so easily here. Aren't there times when reporters are justified in withholding information if it means protecting those who have not yet been found guilty? And couldn't an alleged crime involving a 17 year old girl – even one the police have deemed an adult – be one of them?