The following essay was submitted to the Bulletin as a Letter to the Editor.
Until now, I have made a point of staying out of the local conversation regarding the rash of real-estate-related suicides. Personally, I believe that tragedies such as these deserve a certain discretion, at least among individuals.
However, the news media is in a completely different situation. Its job is to dispassionately report important information on current events regardless of the personal cost.
For example, The Bulletin avidly reported for days on the failed malpractice case against local surgeon Tony Hinz without regard to the cost Dr. Hinz suffered because of the negative publicity, a cost that even his vindication did little to ameliorate, I’m sure.
When it comes to the slumping local real estate market, however, and the concomitant spate of suicides, the Bulletin conveniently hides behind discretion and an intriguing policy of non-reporting even while the paper’s big brother, the Oregonian, finds it suitable news material.
In response to criticism of the Bulletin’s ignoring the story editor John Costa recently wrote that the local medical examiner had not yet confirmed the alleged suicides and, “The Bulletin has a policy of not naming people who commit suicide unless they are public figures or unless they kill themselves in a public setting.”
However, on Christmas Eve the Bulletin reported on the alleged suicide of Bernard Madoff investor Rene-Thierry Magon De La Villehuchet, even omitting the term, “alleged” though the New York City medical examiner had not made such a determination at the time. In addition, Mr. Villehuchet was no more a “public figure” than any of the local alleged suicide victims nor did he take his own life in a public place.
There can be only two explanations for this type of hypocrisy, Mr. Costa: either your “fact-checking” in this case failed you or you violated your own policy on reporting suicides.
Still, I believe that Mr. Villehuchet’s death was a suicide and, indeed, newsworthy just as you and your editorial desk determined at the time. However, if the Bulletin saw fit to declare Mr. Villehuchet’s death a suicide and deemed it worthy of publication then there should be no impediment to reporting the local suicides, just as the Oregonian did.
The bottom line is the community has a right to know and the local news media has an obligation to inform. Otherwise the Bulletin ought to reexamine its efficacy as a “news” outlet.