A shameful post

Ten years ago a young man took his life in Florida.

His parents lived in New York and sat shiva with their other children.

A journalist of a South Florida newspaper called me with questions about the suicide. His story line was to help educate and to prevent such tragic deaths – especially copycat suicide by friends.

I conveyed that copycat suicides are rare, do not happen immediately, and that kids mourn for each other.

I said I’d be happy to discuss it, but only after the family finished sitting shiva. It was inappropriate to write about the boy while the family was still sitting shiva.

He answered that as a journalist he had an obligation to cover the story. I pressed again that the mother of the boy was in serious shock, and that if she read his story during shiva, it could seriously affect her emotional state.

The journalist was nonplussed. He said his obligation was to journalism, not to a mourning family.

His response crystallized for me that for some journalists it is all about themselves. And like in this case, not about educating and preventing such tragedies. That was his entry point – a self rationalization.

This journalist printed the story.

The grieving mother could not sleep during shiva and read the story online recounting the horrors of her son’s suicide. She had a serious emotional reaction.

The New York Post headline Sunday January 4 of the wanton murder of Menachem Stark reminds us of the primal motive of many journalists – to be first with a story at all costs, whatever the consequences.

With a grieving widow and seven young children sitting shiva the first day following their fathers killing, The NY Post with their screaming headline “Who Didn’t Want Him Dead” transformed the murdered into the guilty, and his enemies into victims. Such ‘journalism’ displays the same despicable disregard for humanness and civility as did Stark’s killers.

What professional standards of journalism did the Post meet? What additional critical value was delivered to its readership? None. Only a condemnation that rang forth from every corner of New York City and beyond. Community leaders, elected officials, tweeters, bloggers, and on liners were busy chastising the Post throughout the day. Their response. Silence.

I’d like to see a letter to the Editor from Mrs Stark’s young children expressing their emotions about this headline.

For once it would be commendable for a journalist to see his own children before him reading the headlines he writes about others.

About the Author
David Mandel is Chief Executive Officer of OHEL Children's Home and Family Services in New York