Media, Ethics, Heroin

**Update 11/17/06: Please go to this post for my thoughts on Jamey Singleton’s release from WSLS.**

Okay, I’m going to summarize this Marc Lamarre business as best I can, in list format, to give you background for the “ethics” part of today’s post.

  1. In December, Marc Lamarre and another weatherman disappeared from local newscasts for a while with no explanation whatsoever from the station. Like many, I heard rumors that they’d been sent to rehab for drug problems.
  2. The week before last, Marc again disappeared from the news. Honestly, I didn’t even notice he was gone at first.
  3. Early last week, my site stats spiked with “Marc Lamarre” search engine hits. I became curious and did a news search of my own, which confirmed that he’d been released from WSLS. I figured his alleged drug problems might have something to do with it, mentioned it to a few people, and went about my day. I specifically didn’t write about it because I didn’t want to be all up in here committing libel, and because I figured it’d only be of interest to local readers.
  4. About the same time that I started getting odd comments and emails speculating that he’d died, WSLS ran a story basically saying that he wasn’t dead and that’s all they were allowed to say on the subject. The next morning, the local CBS affiliate broke the heroin overdose story, and it made the paper and I wrote my post.

Oh, and my site hits totally EXPLODED over the weekend. It’s bizarre.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. WDBJ broke the story because a federal complaint was filed against the guy who was allegedly involved in supplying the heroin that led to Lamarre’s near-fatal overdose. Incidentally, the word is that he was found by rescuers not breathing and without a pulse, so there’s where the “dead of an overdose” stuff came from. But anyway – that federal complaint is public record, and once the local media got their hands on it, the cat was out of the bag.

WSLS has a newscast at 5:00, 5:30, and 6:00 on weeknights, which is probably a bit excessive but I’m a news junkie and typically watch all three. On Friday when I got home, the news was all about Lamarre’s situation. They had gotten a statement from him (and permission to report on him), they interviewed his sister, they did a bunch of stuff about the perils of heroin and the heroin trade in southwest Virginia. Each of the three newscasts had a slightly different focus, showing different parts of the interviews, highlighting different aspects of the federal investigation, and so on.

One thing that aired in all three newscasts was a statement from the station’s general manager, explaining that as an employer, they were not legally allowed to report on any aspect of Lamarre’s health without his permission. And, okay, I can agree with that. As a manager with some hiring and firing power, I’m pretty well-versed in the regulations, and as a human being, I’m sensitive to what kind of information you should share about your coworkers.

But the part of the GM’s statement I have an issue with is this:

Some other media outlets have reported rumor, innuendo, and gossip.

We won’t do that.

You have my personal promise that we’ll report the facts on this and every story, just as soon as we can both legally and ethically.

I’m going to go ahead and call bullshit on that.

As many of you know, my sister’s accident received an INSANE amount of news coverage, and I’d say over half of it – particularly from WSLS – was made up of wrong information, rumor, innuendo, and gossip, and/or information obtained unethically. Within an hour of the car crash, local news outlets including WSLS reported varying (usually incorrect) bits of information about the people involved, the number of fatalities, the causes – you name it. In fact, a number of early news reports said that Ginny’s car had carried two to three female passengers, and many of our friends and family rushed to the hospital thinking all four of us had been involved. Luckily, the news reports were so inconsistent that people who knew us began to call us directly to figure out what exactly had happened.

Ginny was in surgery for most of the night after the crash – six hours or more, if I remember correctly. WSLS reported the outcome of her surgery and her condition on the news before the surgeons had spoken to my parents. Reporters and crazy people were calling the hospital regularly pretending to be members of our family in order to get news about Ginny.

WSLS could have waited a few hours to get official reports about the crash, and would have been on ethical high ground in doing so. But they didn’t – of course they didn’t – because their chief concern was to break the story before the other stations did. That’s how journalism tends to work. They can report the story first and straighten out the facts later.

I’m really very sorry about what Marc Lamarre has gone through and about the road he’ll have ahead. He has some big problems and it must be terrible to have to go through any part of them so publicly.

I’m also sympathetic to the dilemma those at WSLS must have faced as employers in this situation. But I think it’s pretty damn rich for them to claim MORAL high ground here. If it had been Leo Hirsbrunner (of WDBJ) flatlined in a bathtub full of cold water in a ghetto duplex somewhere, I’m thinking WSLS would have been all over that story.

Addendum: The local newspaper has good coverage of the ethics and such here.

Comments 26

  • Word. You should send in a viewer’s voice comment… Either eloquently worded… or just “Um.. Channel 10, I’m going to go ahead and call bullshit on that.”

  • Great job!

  • […] ***Please note: If you came here looking for information about Marc Lamarre, I’ve written about it here and here.*** […]

  • Thanks Lorie! This is my first visit to your site and I am very impressed! I have been through so much bullshit about the Marc Lamarre story over the last few days that my head is spinning. I finally feel like I know the facts. I also agree with your bullshit theory. WSLS would and will report on any and everything they can get their hands on – right or “somewhat” right – as soon as possible. It just shocks me that this story was kept quiet for the lenght of time it was. Anyway, thank you for the real “facts” and I look forward visiting your site in the future.

  • Do you know what I have a problem with? That Channel Ten referred to Marc as a “victim.” What? A victim of what, exactly? What kind of message is that sending out? Marc is NO victim. Yes, his situation is very sad and he does need help. But how does that make him a victim? It’s bullshit.

  • He’s a victim of getting some bad drugs… what has the world come to when you can’t trust your drugs to be of the highest quality?! shocking.

  • victim NO stupid YESSSSSSSSS

  • “In December, Marc Lamarre and [unnamed weatherman] disappeared from local newscasts for a while with no explanation whatsoever from the station. Like many, I heard rumors that they’d been sent to rehab for drug problems”

    That’s what was posted above. Are you saying that this other weatherman has a drug problem too? In announcing that you “heard rumors” to that effect, are you not dragging this other individual into something rather serious?

    If you have knowledge that this is the case, that’s one thing. But I am not sure that it’s productive to mention that you heard rumors that someone other than Marc was sent off to rehab. What will your statement do to this other person’s job and reputation?

  • If this little website has enough pull to ruin someone’s reputation and/or get him fired, then I really need to put some damn ads on it and start making money.

    I won’t go into if or how I have personal knowledge of any piece of information I included in this post, but in the interest of fairness, I’ve removed the other weatherman’s name.

    Sigh.

  • Concerned reader or chronic self-googler?

  • In 1987 my 5 year old nephew was run over and killed by his school bus. WSLS reporters camped out at the funeral home and later at the cemetery they filmed us carrying the casket through the snow to the gravesite. During the trial of the driver my sister became emotional during the medical examiner’s testimony and had to go to the ladies room. A WSLS reporter followed her in, asking rapidfire questions the whole time. Some ladies had to physically remove the woman from the restroom. So, WSLS is concerned with privacy all of a sudden? That’s funny.

  • Lorie wrote:

    “If this little website has enough pull to ruin someone’s reputation and/or get him fired, then I really need to put some damn ads on it and start making money. ”

    When you “google” something or someONE, every single thing ANYONE has on the Onternet suddenly becomes available in one sinlge place for consumption. So please do not underestimate the power of even one statement about a person.

    If the interests of freedom of speech, anyone is free to post anything they like about any thing or anyone. But in the interests of fairness in a free society, we have to understand that we are accountable leagally and ethically for what we say or print regarding a person.

  • Kennie,

    I am sorry for the loss you and your family suffered in 1987. News teams can appear to be ruthless when seeking out newsworthy events. I did my best to physically block a camera crew from another network as they attempted to get shots of the bodies of four teenagers being extricated from the vehicle in which they died. I wrote a strongly worded email to the news director about their horrible behavior and never received the courtesy of a reply. So I can only imagine how you feel.

    But one difference here is that WSLS was Marc LaMarre’s employer. It had a different relationship to him than it did to your family when they were trying to cover a local tragedy. I know this may not make sense to you but there is a very real difference here. They HAD to be concerned with his privacy as his employer. Marc Lamarre himself made a statement and it was clear that his family’s and his own privacy were important to him. The Supreme Court said long ago that people have a basic right to be “let alone.” But that has to be balanced with Freedom of the Press, also guaranteed as a right under the Constitution. You are always free to say nothing to a reporter. And in a public place, reporters are also free to follow you in hopes to get a comment. Thats their right. You have the right to ignore them. And you have the right to hate them, if it helps you. They can seem very insensitive at times. Perhaps many of them would benefit from some sensitivity training. But the bottom line for them is that it’s all about scooping another stattion/paper and getting SOMETHOU out there….even if some of the facts are simply wrong.

  • Concerned Reader,

    Please shut the fK up: no one here cares about the relationship between weatherman and newscorp. Nor are we interested in your fair and balanced approcach to being a blowhard.

    This site is about a young lady and her new sweaters, feathery thoughts on pop, just-bad taste in tv, cute shoes, irrational fears, small crushes, her family and, lately, cats. You get that? Cats! …Not even cats – kittens! Leave the girl with the pink site and pictures of kittens alone you moronic excuse of a Do-Right. You don’t even have a name; you’re a cowardly nag.

    She’s talked about the weatherman before; she noticed his being gone; she heard something about it; one day she says, “I heard something about it the other day” and now, you, Mr. Google-is-a-powerful-vein-not-to-be-ignored, we’ve got to discuss the fKing Constitiution and how we are accountable leagally and ethically for what we say or print regarding a person?

    The internet’s a big place; do everyone a favor and get lost in it.

  • I’ve been in the news business a LONG time… and for local stories… this Lamarre issue is BIG (in the sense of viewer interest). However, I really need to correct a lot of misinformation about the misinformation concerning Marc.
    First of all… It took the COMBINED effort of WFIR/WDBJ & The Roanoke Times six days to find “the smoking gun” – the information EVERYONE needed to confirm Marc was the story. WSLS was able to confirm the information about 12 hours later (through a different source because the souce WDBJ had would not speak again).

    What is this “smoking gun”? Maybe a bad metaphor to use, but the driving force of this story was connecting Marc’s name to an affidavit that had names and places blacked out. Did WSLS know who the “blacked out” names were? Yes they did… but they could not go to press with that information becqause it was privledged, either through the HR department or through the Feds themseles.

    This affidavit surfaced in the afternoon of 2/9. At this time, WSLS, The Roanoke Times and WDBJ ALL had thi\e information. With that infor, WDBJ and the Times went to the lawyer for the dealer busted, who told them on record: A. Yes, my guy IS A DRUG DEALER. B: Yes, my guy sold to Marc Lamarre. BINGO – Game over, WSLS falls short. Plain and simple… they got beat.

    I’m not sure about a child’s funeral in ’87 (18 years ago) or any other specific case (including the tragic Bed Co. wreck), but I can assure you WSLS works VERY hard to get the right verification. I would like to say it is 100%, but who knows. What I do know, is that IF there are issues, as those brought up above, let’ hear about them when they happen and not 18 years later. The accusations above (regarding ethics) are serious… and if that is your perception of WSLS… it is something that needs to change. You can write me any time at the email provided.

    PS – Who I am is not an issue… but I can asure you that what I’ve written are FACTS from the inside.

  • Finally, Marc IS a VICTIM – Of his own poor choice and a very destructive drug. He is also the victim of an interstae heroin ring that runs from Detroit to Roanoke. Why isn’t that something in the news??

  • While I’m here… I’ll give you another local news tip:

    WSLS (or any I know of for that matter) DOES NOT SHOW bodies on the news. If there was a cameraman shooting video during extrication… there are a number of reasons why they do this, and it is not to put on the air. Often times we take those pictures to determine later if it’s a man or woman, black or white or whatever…. I chalenge anyone out there to show me where WSLS has EVER put a victim’s body on the air. I do recall a couple of “body shots” from murder scenes (person under the sheet)… but those are very rare and far between. In fact, if I recall the Bed. Co. situation correctly, Ch 13 decided to air blood smears from the wreck… a line WSLS would never cross.

    I realize there is a lot of angst toward the news… never changes. There’ actually people who are relishing in this Marc story just because “now you know what it feels like attitude”. Points have been taken….

  • Yep, now WSLS know how it feels. I’ve gotten hounded by the press to confirm rumors about deaths that are of no concern to anyone but the family. When I don’t give a statement, the press spins this failure to comment on something dark and insidious. In my position, I just can’t comment because of privacy laws.

    I certainly wish Marc no ill will, but you bet your ass I’m happy to see the press having to take what they dish out.

  • Wow. WOW. I fucking love the internet(s). Also, I have to say, the rationalization of Marc being a “victim” is just that – rationalization. Am I a victim because I was single and got knocked up one night after 11 double 7&7s? I guess by “doesn’t matter”‘s reasoning, I totally am. Cool! Whatev.

  • Are you a victim if you’re a recless driver and crash and die?

  • Wowie! Zoiks! I found this little place by doing a yahoo search for “marc lamarre”. I was interested in tracking the storu regarding his departure from doing the Weather on a Roanoke, VA TV station.

    To see such nastiness directed towared some individuals who simply posted a reponse or opinion; I don’t know what to say.

    It looks like a few individuals could benefit from a few anger management classes. To fly into rage because you have an opposite opinion from someone seems to me to be unwarranted.

    This site invites responses. That’s why I am posting mine. Several people here went ballistic just because some people posted their comments. Learn how to respond to someone in a civil way. There is no reason to use the “f” word or call people bad names. Say you disagree, back it up with reasons if you like and leave it at that. What good comes from such hostility?

  • Taylor! I miss your blog. Have you moved? How’s the baby boy?

    To wowizoiks, congratulations on that AWESOME promotion–must be super rad to be the boss of the internet!

  • I know I shouldn’t do this but Catherine – where are YOU? I don’t have a good link! I’m at MySpace because I’m in high school, obviously. Also, fuckshitdamnhell, just because. I am so evil.

  • Wowiwzoiks, hey there.

    Yes, I’m kinda the resident a-hole at times and, to be honest, I don’t generally use bad words on blogs. (Note that I couldn’t even bring myself to spell the words out.)

    I feel like I should respond here because, really, I brought the most heat. Simply, I have a very low threshold for – not people who are opinionated or those who hold positions on issues different from mine – I have a low threshold for and little patience for people who, when expressing their opinions, feel it necessary to give everyone listening a history lesson, and apply their reading of the Constitution. I have No Patience for people who make thinly veiled threats.

    This section:
    The Supreme Court said long ago that people have a basic right to be “let alone.” But that has to be balanced with Freedom of the Press, also guaranteed as a right under the Constitution. is annoying.
    This part:
    have to understand that we are accountable legally and ethically for what we say or print regarding a person sounds like a threat. (and yes, I’m sure it is not a threat.)

    Now, as a Christian (a follower *loosely* of the tenants espoused by the Christ) I agree that people should watch, not wag their tongues. However, the accountable legally isn’t an opinion; it’s a lesson at least and a threat at worst. That’s something that lends itself to a heated response.

    Please be sure to also note that the blogger here responded to Concerned Reader. In fact, she didn’t delay; she addressed him/her immediately and sincerely. When Concerned Reader came back to pick on her response (and educate the rest of us) s/he opened the door to general response including the heated variety.

    To conclude, hostility can serve no good other than change. When Concerned Reader decided that s/he had the moral authority to -beyond expressing opinion- pick on, deconstruct and chastise others (not only the blogger) then hostility can bring into sharp relief an individual moving from opinion to righteousness. Hostility can speak for everyone by saying: You Are Entering Areas for Which You Will Now Be Held Accountable. You see, there’s little Concerned Reader said that I actually disagree with; however, I feel no shame in alerting him/her of the ignoble path s/he was starting to tread. A blowhard is a blowhard, I just gave Concerned Reader the opportunity to own it.
    See? I’m an enabler!

  • Taylor, I actually came across your blog a year or so back because I googled an [unnamed weatherman] after an odd run-in.

  • Comments on this post are going nowhere productive, and I’m getting kind of sick of managing this bullshit. So comments are now closed.