Publication:Johnson City Press; Date:Oct 11, 2007; Section:Opinion; Page Number:6A


GUEST COMMENTARY

Press report could give accused stress and psychological crisis

By JOHN W. MOSIER John W. Mosier of Johnson City is a clinical psychologist.



    The Johnson City Press on Oct. 2 posted the names, home addresses and pictures of 40 men arrested in sex sting operations in local city parks. While the press has a responsibility to report on illegal conduct, the front-page publication of the pictures, names and addresses is nothing more than cheap sensationalism at the expense of individuals who are likely suffering considerable emotional pain.

    Understanding the cultural context of this community, I was immediately concerned about privacy rights, potential hate crime retaliation and acts of suicide. It is no surprise that one of the men killed himself the day the story was published. The psychological, emotional and physical consequences on the partners, spouses, children and extended families of these individuals will be immeasurable.

    As a clinical psychologist, I feel compelled to put the article’s publication into a mental health context. What we know of stressors is that they quickly become exponential when compounded. There is a likelihood that several of the men have struggled a lifetime with an internalized sense of fear, guilt and shame regarding their identities. As such, the arrest itself would constitute a psychological crisis. With the added component of public humiliation and embarrassment in a prominently displayed article on the front page of the paper, an inability to effectively manage the overwhelming stress is easily understood.

    When media develop such stories, they have an obligation to be deliberate and conscientious regarding the consequences of their actions. In this instance, they simply provided shame and humiliation. There was an opportunity and a responsibility, however, to educate and offer context by consulting credible experts. They should have clarified that such actions are not representative of the gay community, in the same way that stories of married men sleeping with female prostitutes are not representative of the straight community.

    Given that the Johnson City Press typically reports the names and addresses of those facing criminal charges embedded inside the paper — as opposed to on the front page — it appears that intolerance and tabloid sensibilities were primary motivators behind the format and placement of this story.

    The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics states that one of the most important principles of responsible journalism is to minimize harm: “Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage.” The Johnson City Press showed a callous disregard for this code. The pictures, names and addresses of these men should be removed immediately from the paper’s Internet archive. In the future, the Johnson City Press and all other media need to be more responsible in reporting similar stories.

    Destroyed lives and families are too high a price to pay for the sanctimonious public shaming displayed by the Press. It is without doubt that many local citizens, across the political and philosophical spectrum, are entirely disappointed by how these events were reported. The Johnson City Press motto is “What the People Don’t Know WILL Hurt Them.” In this instance, the editors’ blatant disregard for journalistic ethics has hurt this community.