HOLLYWOOD – The media coverage of Robin Williams’ death has for the most part consisted of tributes to the phenomenal comic talent of what many remember as a genuinely nice man whose death represents a very sad, indeed tragic, episode, but for some cable news outlets excesses and idiocies are beginning to reach dangerous levels.
Throughout this week mental health charities such as the Samaritans and Mind have been careful to monitor the various reports and have publicized their concerns that the use of certain language and the focusing on particular details could in fact encourage people close to the edge to try to take their own lives.
Fox News alas … Fox News pay no heed to such namby-pamby complexities such as thinking about stuff. The unlikely named and faced Shepherd Smith refers to Williams as ‘a coward’ when he starts choking on his own emoting. The ensuing outrage brings forth an apology. Fox’s Gretchen Carlson tells us: ‘Some of these details are gruesome to listen to but that’s why we have here Dr. Michael Baden here now to take us through what happened.’Other cable news channels have provided similarly gruesome details and there appears to be no restraint or thoughtfulness. When the family ask for privacy don’t the media have some responsibility to weigh that against say any morbid curiosity their viewers might entertain? Is there really any need to go into such lavish detail when the facts of the case can be stated without pointless speculation? In an atmosphere when Williams’ daughter has been subjected to such abuse on social media that she is basically forced to flee it, can’t the mainstream media attempt to damp down pointless speculation rather than incite it?
Rush Limbaugh is an asshole, what he said about Williams is abhorrent, tasteless and crass, but he’s an asshole so there’s no point expecting him not to be one even momentarily. But it is the rest of the media who need to be attentive. We should all be aware that people on the edge are by definition in a precarious position and we all – but news organisations like Fox and CNN, especially – have a responsibility not to nudge, even inadvertently, those in such desperate straits.
By the way the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.