**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.
- 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.
- The week before last, Marc again disappeared from the news. Honestly, I didn’t even notice he was gone at first.
- 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.
- 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.