Saturday, January 19, 2008

Freedom of the Press

While perusing the Oakland Tribune, I noticed an article about a 10-year-old boy who had been shot during his piano lesson. A stray bullet, shot during a robbery of the gas station across the street, had gone through the wall of the room he was in. This raises all sorts of wonderful questions about gun control (in response to the incident, Peralta is sponsoring a buyback program) and the Second Amendment (exactly, what do those, pesky commas mean, anyway?). I'm sure we'll debate it all to death when the Supreme Court rules on the DC gun control case.

According to the father,
"His heart twinged, he said, when he overheard Christopher telling a nurse he played center on the Crocker Highlands Elementary School basketball team. Afterward, "He said, 'Daddy, I don't want to be paralyzed,' and I didn't respond to him.""
I can understand wanting to wait to tell the kid he's going to be paralyzed for life until he's recovered a little more. What I don't understand is letting the national news media know before the kid does. Bad enough that he'll never play basketball again. How do you think he'll feel when he finds out that his classmates knew he before he did?

Then again, in a society where we frequently compete to see who can air the most dirty laundry on television, it doesn't surprise me much that common standards of decency are suspended for the sake of a good story.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see how any particular gun-related incident, no matter how sad, "raises" 2nd amendment issues on its own.

1/19/2008 9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Give the dad a break. I think that he probably wants to try to process a bad situation and talk about it quite a bit. It can be hard to say no to someone determined to hear you. Plus, by speaking publicly he will likely get a lot of community support, both in terms of mobilizing his friends and neighbors and in terms of a community acknowledgment of his misfortune.

1/19/2008 10:10 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

More interesting than the 2nd Amendment, based on what you have said, is privacy of medical information.

Someone wagged their tongue about the child's physical state. It could have been the father (probably okay) or it could have been a hospital admitting clerk/nurse/doctor/etc., (probably very, very not okay under patient confidentiality rules.)

Where I am from, generally, a ten year old boy doesn't have much say what happens to him in the ER, or who finds out about his injuries. His parents or guardians are saddled with the burden of making those decisions. If no guardian can be found, the attending caregiver gets to assume those rights until the proper guardian can be found. Every now and then you will find a mess surrounding treatment of a minor under implied consent, when that minor's parents turned out to hold some wacky belief about trusting God over science (Jehovah's Witness, etc.)

Is that okay? Should the ten year old get some say? As a medical provider, I would feel pretty conflicted if the father said "please tell the media and no one else about my child's injuries," and the child said "please tell me what's going on with my body?"

Given the ethical and legal constraints doctors, nurses and paramedics are under, and given the father's huge emotional investment in the well-being of his son, I think "common standards of decency" is to glossy an assessment of the proper standard of conduct. The conflicting values may be much more complex. If there is a bottom line, it is that the whole story is really, really sad, and the details of how it is handled pale in comparison to the brute facts about the rest of this person's life.

Did they catch the robbers?

1/19/2008 11:23 AM  
Blogger Bekki said...

A few notes:

There is a suspect, who has been charged with murder and attempted murder. The prosecution is seeking jail for life.

According to the article, "doctors" told the reporter that the boy was paralyzed.

1/19/2008 12:01 PM  
Anonymous David E. Snyder said...

Bekki, although it's not entirely clear in the coverage I have read, the most likely original source of the information about the boy's paralysis is the DA's office. In charging the suspect, prosecutors almost certainly would want to note the victim's condition, for two basic reasons: 1) to make sure the suspect's bail is set as high as possible by increasing public pressure on the court that heard this initially, 2)the type of injury the boy received could affect the level of crime the suspect is charged with.

Because courts are, thankfully, still open to the public in this country, the DA noting the injuries in open court would make the information about the boy's status public record.

I'm sure you're not arguing that reporters should have refrained from reporting public information about a case of intense public interest and concern, so I'll assume you're saying the father should not have spoken with reporters. I disagree.

The father was likely left with an unpleasant choice: talk to reporters (and conceal the information from his son) or pretend they don't exist and will go away by themselves. I am glad he chose the former. It was the courageous, and difficult, choice. But by talking to the reporters, he gives us an insight into the terrible tragedy that has befallen his family. It's hard to understand the impact of a terrible crime like this without understanding the human face of the victim. This isn't Jerry Springer. It's a father having the courage to stand up and describe for the world how his son won't walk again.


This is a terrible story, but the blame shouldn't fall on either the father's or the media's shoulders. It has always been easy to stick it to the messenger, and with all of the mis-steps, mistakes and silliness in the media these days, it may be easier than ever. But I have to say that witholding information about a subject of great public concern is almost never the right answer.

1/19/2008 2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok hi. so where in that clip Bekki gave us does it indicate that the reporters, court, public, etc. knew about the paralysis before the kid. All it says is that the dad couldn't answer right at that moment. Is it not entirely possible that later that day (or hour) when the morphine had worn off and more family was consulted, that the father, doctors, whoever, could have sat down and explained things to this poor kid before the reporters even knew what had happened?

Yall are representing the best the legal industry has to offer. Let's not make leaps of logic and pretend the resulting potentially false deduction is news- or blog- worthy.

1/19/2008 10:09 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

10:09: lighten up. When did the article mention morphine wearing off? :)

1/20/2008 2:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm with 10:09 - the quote only says the kid didn't want to be paralyzed, to which dad didn't respond - that is, dad is not responding to kid not wanting to be paralyzed, and doesn't mean kid doesn't know. kid could already know and make this statement.

but maybe there's something i missed

1/21/2008 12:04 PM  

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