Good Media, Bad Media
A 4-year old girl’s mother was murdered, and the girl was left abandoned. She was put on TV, and people’s calls helped her and lead to her mother’s killer. But now it is hard to get the media to leave the girl alone. From the New York Times:
But now, those caring for the girl . . . say coverage by the news media has become a curse. She is trapped inside her relatives’ home on Long Island, they say, unable to play outside or ride the new bicycle she received as a gift.
Eighteen days have passed since [the girl] talked about pizza, pickles and her cat on television, after child welfare officials made her available to the cameras in an extraordinary effort to find out who she was. Reporters have followed every step of her story and, until last night, had been camping outside the home of [the girl’s] temporary guardians, hoping for a new photograph or a word from them. . . .
“Our worst fears are coming true for [the girl] right now: she is a virtual prisoner in her new home,” Kim McLaurin, the lawyer who represents the girl in the custody case, said yesterday. “She can’t go outside to ride her bike, she can’t go to school and she can’t make friends. She is locked in, just sitting in the house, and that’s not right.”
Is the continued media coverage appropriate? On the one hand, the media’s initial involvement worked for the good. The media began a story, sparked people’s interest, and should be able to see the story through to its end. On the other hand, once the media is invoked, it becomes like an attack dog that will not let people out of its jaws.
Currently, the law will often provide a remedy when a single journalist (or a paparazzi) harasses an individual to an excessive degree. But what about when it is a combination of journalists who do so, with no one journalist acting excessively? This is what often happens to people caught up in a major news story. One reporter may not go to excessive lengths, but there are so many reporters that it guarantees that the person will be followed everywhere. I wonder what, if anything, the law can do to provide people with a reasonable bit of space.