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August 21, 2014

Too much?


The death of comedian Robin Williams has many people upset.


And that’s not the only thing.


A substantial number of his fans are also angry over the way the authorities and the media covered the case.


They don’t like that Marin County Sheriff’s Office released details of Williams’ suicide, including the method and a description of how his body was found.


Nor are they thrilled that the media chose to publish those details. Nor do they like the speculations about why the entertainer chose to end his life.


They see such things as insensitive, sensationalistic.


Perhaps.


But the sheriff’s department had no choice. California law makes such intrusions public information. This type of information is released daily about those who take their own lives.


Of course, most people don’t care. Unless the victim is a beloved celebrity.


The same can be said of the media. Most suicide cases are ignored unless the act occurs in a public place. Then it might rate a few lines in the local paper, maybe a mention on the TV news.


But if a celebrity commits suicide—or dies from a drug overdose or something similar—it becomes news. And it gets reported.


Perhaps too much.


There are ways to handle such situations, and it’s true that some news sources don’t do a very good job of it.


But most try to balance respect and reporting.


There is another factor to consider as well.


And that’s the public. The very people who turn up a nose at what they see as unseemly journalism.


Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they protest too much.


Because somebody’s watching the TV coverage, somebody’s buying the newspapers and magazines.


Somebody’s rehashing the details at the office water cooler or over drinks in a bar. And somebody’s posting on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. Not always nice posts, either.


In the media, we have to walk a delicate line in such cases. Don’t tell enough and we are accused of “covering it up.” Tell too much and we are accused of sensationalizing.


We don’t always get it right, but most of us try.


One good thing that has come out of the media scrutiny is a renewed focus on the devastating effects of depression. Perhaps that can help someone else struggling with the disease. If so, that’s a good thing.


— Texarkana (Arkansas) Gazette