Friday, November 16, 2007

Standing Up for the St. Charles Journal

To follow up on

this gutwrenching story:

Yesterday, Poynter posted a letter and links to forums that are criticizing the paper for failing to identify the adults deemed responsible for this young girl's suicide.

The short version: Megan Meier killed herself after being mocked online, viciously, by a boy named Josh. He turned out to be a fake. A parent in the neighborhood, who knew that the girl suffered from depression, had created the fake persona to see if Megan was saying awful things about the woman's daughter.

I'm with the paper on this one. And I think the paper was courageous in reporting out a complex, difficult story without going overboard.

There are no legal charges to be brought against the adults. This is a heartbreaking story of a young, apparently troubled, girl who fell victim to amazingly immature and vicious grownups who should have known better. It's not a victim-crime-arrest story. Once the newspaper names people, they have to start calling on the lawyers--the named and their own--and it changes the story. I find the approach the paper took to be the best. It keeps the focus on the girl's tragedy rather than the perpetrators.

Some bloggers--a category of people who are often near and dear to my heart--have decided they know who the guilty party is. They've had a field day, searching real estate records and maps and have posted the presumed perps' names, urging others to send them letters,excoriating them for their behavior.

A couple of people claiming to be reporters have posted, decrying the decision not to name them and, in at least one case, saying they've never heard of a decision not to identify parents to protect children. Well, I have. Cases where children have been sexually abused by parents or other relatives are often reported without those relatives' names so that the kids won't inadvertently be identified.

Because we can provide information doesn't mean we have to or that it's a good idea to. The worst thing that could happen now is for the apparent guilty ones to become victims themselves.

Someone else wrote in and said that the woman being blamed in this case was just trying to protect her own child, and that's equally dumb. Your right, your duty, to protect your own child doesn't include deliberately misleading, harming or terrorizing another person's child.

Sometimes on the Web there's such a tone of self-righteousness, revenge and determination to impose justice, to act against someone perceived to be wrong, that it's a little scary. I found myself wondering what my response to this behavior would be if my child were harmed, and where that led me wasn't pretty. But that would be a personal matter, not one requiring the summoning of a mob with pitchforks.

It seems to be that there's a meanness in our culture these days, something that seems to have worsened, coarsened in the last few years. There seems to be no self-restraint anywhere. If you're perceived to have crossed a line, you are verbally assaulted, investigated, publicly demeaned and ridiculed, threatened with a loss of job or standing. Can we not be better than this?

I welcome other opinions.

Previously mentioned here.

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